The Yemeni crisis involves several parties, but it can be summed up as being a conflict between forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi rebels on one hand, and Yemen’s legitimate government on the other, backed by the Saudi-led alliance. In addition to this, Al-Qaeda is playing the role of spoiler.
Given these different camps, the war may go on for months, perhaps years, unless the Saleh-Houthi capabilities are targeted and diminished. This is something that must not only take place by way of military confrontation, but also by attracting the remaining Yemeni military and tribal powers—many of which have taken Saleh’s side—to the government’s camp.
The war is no longer limited to Sana’a and Aden; fighting has now broken out in 10 of Yemen’s 21 governorates. Or to put it another way, half the country is on fire. More than this, the Houthi rebels have sought to open a new front against Saudi Arabia by shelling its border cities. This is something that we expected from the start, as the Houthis are ultimately nothing more than a tool that is being wielded for propaganda purposes against the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, the Iranians and their allies are trying to escalate the situation via the media by intensifying coverage of events to the extent that the war has become the most covered affair in the region. They believe that Yemen will be a swamp that will entrench and preoccupy Saudi Arabia allowing Tehran to run riot in other areas of the Middle East.
There are also unremitting attempts to support the “Saleh-Houthi” camp by sending weapons and experienced fighters. These attempts have so far failed due to the naval and aerial embargo on the country.
The dispute can end either with a clear victory, which is almost impossible due to the situation on the ground, or by one side achieving enough victories to convince the opposing forces to negotiate. This is the major aim of the current conflict. The final scenario would be for the war to last until all parties are exhausted and a stalemate ensues, with each side settling to maintain what they have gained, similar to what has happened in Afghanistan.
The Houthi attack on Saudi border-post cities will achieve nothing. The major obstacle to their success is the sheer length of the border between the two countries; the Houthis simply do not possess the military capability to march into southern Saudi Arabia and fight a successful campaign.
However, they can continue to ignite fires by shelling Saudi Arabia’s border regions and obstructing civilian life in these areas. This, however, will not alter the political path of the battle.
The most important aspect of the war is not its intensity, but the disintegration of Yemen’s domestic political and tribal alliances. Efforts are underway to convince the various tribes to break their alliance with Saleh and the Houthis and join the legitimate government, which is the only guarantor of Yemeni stability, unity and independence. We must hope that these efforts meet with success.