Is Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s statement that he would not give in to the Huthists even if the war lasted five or six years an exaggeration? Or could the war possibly last long in these rough mountainous areas?
The fact is that no one can tolerate a long war, no matter what their capabilities are. An example; a superpower, such as the United States, did not endure any war that went beyond five years, and Yemen itself has a history of long failed wars. The Turks left Yemen after they lost hope of winning the war against it, and [late Egyptian President] Abdul-Nasser was unable to move deep into Yemen and preferred a withdrawal in defeat to the continuation of the war.
Fighting tribes or rebels like the Huthists in their own areas is an extremely difficult task. This kind of wars needs more than an army fully equipped with modern weapons. It needs an effective political management in the battle zones to attract all parties there to the government’s side and cooperate with them in the fight against the rebels.
However, if the government forces do not manage to defeat the rebels in the next few months, it will be difficult for them to bring these rebels under their control for many years. The Yemeni president knows that he faces the greatest challenge to him, not since the unification of Yemen, as is currently said, but since the establishment of the republic. He knows that this group does not operate alone, that it receives help from abroad, and that this fighting is part of a regional war.
More seriously, this group has a political plan the target of which is the capital, Sanaa, and it does not want to remain in the caves of the mountains where it currently deploys. The group’s failed attack on the City of Sa’dah on the Id [al-Fitr] day was only a step in the direction of Sanaa.
Therefore, the president was right when he said that he prefers war to making concessions, so long as the Huthists’ demands are unrealistic and fundamentally affect the existence of the regime. The Huthist movement rejects the regime and seeks to take its place.
While acknowledging that currently there are no options, other than war, after the failure of all mediation efforts and violation of agreements, the president has ammunition, which is not less important than his military power. It is his rich experience of dealing with the tribes and his relations with them. This experience and relations may play a complementary role in isolating and destroying the rebels, which is a task that the army cannot perform alone in these difficult areas.
For their part, the Huthists tried to win the tribes over but did not make much success. They know very well that they need to achieve moral victories, such as the occupation of the City of Sa’dah. Their attack to occupy it failed. The aim behind this attack was to convince the population in the area that they are a force that resembles Taliban in Afghanistan, a force able to establish its own kingdom and be a difficult number that politicians both at home and abroad cannot ignore.
However, the Huthists’ failure up until now to advance makes them just a rebel clique and a failed project, and an alliance can be built against them.