How long will the fragile truce in Yemen last?
This month, Yemen’s warring parties agreed to another two-month renewal of the truce that was first reached in April and later extended to August, thus marking the longest ceasefire in Yemen’s 7-year-long war.
With Saudi Arabia exhausted by years of stalemate and faced with increasing threats to its internal security, and the Houthis failing to capture the oil-rich province of Marib from the coalition, parties agreed to a truce that finally brought about a perceptible shift in conditions on the ground. Despite the truce, the blockade has yet to be lifted completely, thereby further deteriorating the humanitarian condition and putting into question both the viability of the truce and Yemen’s long-term political and economic stability.
Cause and Effect
The rise of Yemen’s Ansar Allah (commonly known as the Houthis) in late 2014 signaled a shift in power that unnerved Saudi Arabia and the United States, both of whom have a history of political and military meddling in Yemen. As various Yemeni factions prepared to sign a UN-mediated power-sharing agreement in March 2015 in an effort to prevent a looming civil war following years of tumult, a U.S.-backed, Saudi- and UAE-led coalition launched a bombing campaign aimed at restoring then-interim president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power and wresting control of the country (and its strategic, Bab-el-Mandeb strait) from the Houthis.
More than seven years later, neither goal was achieved: the Houthis maintain control of Yemen’s capital and its most populous region, while Hadi was abruptly dismissed and replaced by a Presidential Leadership Council earlier this year. Meanwhile, Yemen plunged into chaos, becoming the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with war deaths estimated to have reached 377,000 by the end of last year. These deaths represent both those who were killed in the violence, and those who succumbed to starvation and preventable illnesses, largely due to the coalition-imposed blockade on Yemen’s ports, land borders, and airspace. The toll on Yemeni children is especially harrowing; it is estimated that every 75 seconds, a Yemeni child dies of hunger or preventable illnesses like cholera, diphtheria, or even a simple fever. Comparable statistics cannot be reported about civilians in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or their allies, thus reflecting the reality that this so-called “war” is a unilateral attack on one of the world’s poorest countries by its wealthy neighbors and their Arab and Western allies.
Headed by Saudi-based Rashad Al-Alimi and composed of seven Yemeni warlords backed and funded by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the truce signals a shift from overt Saudi and UAE military intervention. And while a diplomatic solution to the war seems difficult to achieve given the warring histories among council members and between council warlords and the Houthis, positive developments have provided a much-needed respite to the Yemeni people.
Since April, airstrikes in Houthi-controlled areas have not been carried out and some flights to and from Sana’a were resumed. For the first time in over seven years, Sana’a airport began operating two commercial flights per week to Egypt and Jordan. Though limited, these flights allow Yemenis who can afford to travel abroad opportunities to seek life saving medical treatments they are unable to receive in Yemen, whose healthcare system is all but decimated. With over 30,000 people in Houthi-governed areas requiring medical treatment, however, and in a country where between 71-78 percent of people now live below the poverty line, travel is an unattainable luxury for most Yemenis.
Also as a result of the truce, Saudi Arabia began allowing fuel shipments to enter Hodeidah port. In the last four months, ships carrying 663,781 metric tons of fuel were allowed entry into the port, a substantial increase from the 470,000 metric tons allowed entry in the entirety of 2021. Yet, the Saudi-led blockade on the country’s northern areas has not been lifted entirely. The amount of fuel currently allowed is still well below Yemen’s basic needs and Saudi Arabia is preventing 12 fuel ships from entry into Yemen.
Other conditions have also not been met: Yemeni civil servants have not yet received their salaries, and the Houthis have not reopened Taiz roads. With parties agreeing to extend the truce and continue talks, however, it is possible that some agreements will be reached by factions exhausted and depleted by years of war. While intra-Yemeni talks continue, members of the U.S. Congress have been gathering support for a bill that would prevent further military involvement by the Biden administration no matter the outcome of Yemen’s fragile truce.
The War Powers Resolution — previously passed in a historic bipartisan vote then vetoed by then-President Trump in 2019 — has once again been gaining momentum in Congress, this time to end President Biden’s involvement in the war in Yemen. After continued U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen, including arms sales to Saudi and UAE despite promises to the contrary, Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Peter DeFazio introduced H.J.Res.87 in the House, followed by Senators Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, and Elizabeth Warren’s introduction of the resolution in the Senate. The bill calls for an end to U.S. intelligence-sharing, logistical support, and engagement of U.S. personnel in the war. If passed by Congress, President Biden is unlikely to veto it thus helping to reinstate congressional authority over war.
For Yemeni civilians who have suffered the brunt of this protracted conflict, the road to recovery and stability will be long. To ensure a permanent truce and long lasting peace, however, a complete end to foreign involvement, both politically and militarily, is essential. This can begin with the passing of the War Powers Resolution, which will not only deprive Saudi Arabia of the U.S. military capabilities it has come to rely upon, but will also pave the way for further dialogue and concessions among parties in Yemen.