After three-years of murderous fighting that has left Arabian Peninsula nation Yemen into one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world today, Arab coalition forces are set to gain significant ground against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who seized power for the country’s legitimate government in 2014.
The Arab coalition’s military operation to liberate the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah involves thousands of troops, that include Saudi and Emirati forces. The offensive is shaping up to be the largest of its kind since the conflict erupted into an all-out war between the Houthis – a Shi’ite minority that is heavily supported and supplied by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps – and the Yemeni government and its allies. in an effort to recapture the port on behalf of Yemen’s internationally-recognised government.
The forces are prepared for the likelihood that the battle for Hodeidah could end up taking a significant amount of time before its clear of Houthi militias. Early reports from the front lines indicated that the Coalition has already penetrated into certain areas of the port city, including having captured parts of the city’s airport. The swift advance is an important early success for the Saudi- and United Arab Emirates-led alliance says it can seize the city quickly enough to avoid interrupting aid to the millions facing starvation.
The Houthis currently control the capital Sana’a, the Hodeidah port, and most of Yemen’s populated areas, where they have attempted to import elements of Iran’s Islamic Revolution into the daily lives of the mostly Sunni local population.
The Arab coalition forces, who are backed by the United States and most European powers, have said that the re-capture of Hodeidah is the only way to ensure that the war can be brought to a close and a political solution aimed at accommodating the warring factions can be agreed upon.
Speaking to New Europe, the UAE’s Ambassador to Brussels, Mohamed Abushahab, said the ultimate goal of the mission by the coalition forces is to quickly end the tragic suffering of the Yemeni people and to guarantee that a political settlement can be reached that would accommodate all factions in the country and allow Yemen to begin the slow process of rebuilding itself.
Hodeidah is the main entry point for vital supplies of food and medical aid to millions of Yemenis, not just in the capital but throughout the country. International aid organisations had warned prior to the offensive that the attack could have devastating consequences for the civilian population.
The coalition, however, has guaranteed that contingency plans are in place whereby the ground and air forces involved in the liberation of the city will coordinate with emergency aid organisations to alleviate the suffering of the local population.
The UAE has put forth the argument that capturing Hodeidah will deprive the Houthis of massive amounts of revenue and force them to negotiate. It also claims the port has been used to smuggle weapons from Iran, including missile parts used to fire into Saudi Arabia.
In a statement released on June 14, Dr Anwar Mohamed Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said, “The commencement of operations to liberate Hodeida port opens the way for a successful political process that will bring peace in Yemen. The Houthis are a militia who represent a tiny fraction of the people of Yemen. They overthrew the country’s constitutional government and have oppressed and plundered the country since. For three years, the Houthis have resisted multiple opportunities to engage in serious peace talks.”
“The Houthis have used this time to extort money from vital supplies entering Yemen via Hodeida port. They have used their positions on Yemen’s west coast to threaten international shipping. They continue to defy UN Security Council resolutions and the Yemeni people’s demand for constitutional government. This deadlock must end. It is clear that for the UN-led political process to succeed, the situation on the ground must change,” said Gargash.
The Houthis, a 100,000-strong revivalist movement from the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam that originated in northern Yemen, rose to power in 2014 when their leader, Abdulmalek al-Houthi, captured the capital Sana’a in late 2014 and early 2015 and forced the country’s president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, to flee.
Alarmed by the rise of an Iranian proxy in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and seven other Sunni Arab states launched a military campaign in March 2015 to restore Hadi’s government.
At the time of their rise to power, the Houthis enjoyed the support of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had overseen the country’s unification and ruled the country with an iron fist for 33 years while being heavily backed by the US, UK, and France. Saleh was forced to step down as president in following the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011 and replaced by Hadi.
The latest civil war is only the most recent to split the country since the end of the Second World War. The Western-backed north and Soviet-backed south united into a single state in 1990, but sporadic fighting has erupted multiple times in the years since. In the three years since the most recent fighting began over 10,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of been forced to flee.