Fragile ceasefire between Yemeni gov’t and Houthi rebels

Asia Pacific Daily | 作者: Li Zixin | 时间: 2018-12-20 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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A new round of UN-led peace talks on ending Yemeni civil war in Stockholm, capital of Sweden, has entered its ninth day on Thursday. The negotiation process seemingly goes smoothly. Just two day before, the warring sides, the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, reached a consensus on a large-scale exchange of prisoners, an estimated at least 15,000.

Generally speaking, the Yemeni civil war is believed to be a typical proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, in the past few months, the situation in the Middle East has greatly changed. Riyadh is embroiled in the scandal of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death, with the moral evaluation of Crown Prince Mohammed dropping dramatically. Moreover, the Kingdom’s military participation in Yemen is also strongly criticized as it has aggravated the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. On the opposite, the situation for Iran is even worse. Because of comprehensive sanctions imposed by the U.S., Teheran now suffers from growing economic pressures and intensified social conflicts. Iran hardly maintains its support for its regional allies, thus its influence in regional affairs has been significantly weakened.

So, benefitting from reduced external pressure, both sides of the Yemeni civil war now gain more room of the strategic buffer. After years of fierce fighting, the Houthi rebels and the government forces have had a confrontation for a long time. So, the cold peace is currently the best option for both sides.

The development of Yemeni situation is strongly impacted by the U.S. foreign policy, particularly its efforts to combat Iranian influence in the region. The U.S. strategy of the Comprehensive Containment toward Iran incorporates political, economic, military, and cultural approaches to stop the expansion of its important strategic adversary in the Middle East. Among them, the military containment might be the most essential one. However, the “America First” policy makes the Trump administration difficult to redeploy more troops and resources to the Middle East. Perhaps, the U.S. can impose a "remote containment" against Iran in the economic and cultural aspects, but military containment cannot be achieved without the help of its regional allies. The Israeli strike against Iran is like the sword of Damocles, but Saudi Arabia's military operations in Yemen constitute the most important military pressure against Iran. Therefore, maintaining military intervention in Yemen is an indispensable part of the current U.S. strategy of Comprehensive Containment toward Iran.

Thus, though the U.S. Congress is not satisfied with the current humanitarian situation in Yemen and threats to interrupt the support to Saudi Arabia, the White House and the Pentagon are continuing to persuade the Congress to maintain their original policies.

Because of the joint intervention of the global hegemony and regional powers, the Yemeni civil war is still far from the end. However, effective ceasefire negotiations are still positive to achieve a short-term cold peace, and good for alleviating the humanitarian crises.


LI Zixin, Assistant Research Fellow, Dept. for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies.


Source: Asia Pacific Daily, December 13, 2018.