Rusi fellow fears UN Yemen peace process is broken

Houthi rebels' current position unsustainable outside of conflict

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The Yemen peace process is broken, having failed to deliver either conflict resolution or facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, a researcher at the UK think tank Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) has concluded.

The diplomatic task of replacing the UN-led mediation effort with a viable negotiating framework would mean securing local legitimacy for an internationally-backed settlement, according to a note by Jack Watling, the Rusi land warfare fellow, published on Monday.

President Joe Biden's US administration announced last week it was ending support for military operations in Yemen. In a keynote foreign policy speech, Mr Biden declared the war there must end.

What is less clear is how the long-standing United Nations talks led by envoy Martin Griffiths can deliver for Mr Biden. To critics, the current set-up does not provide a solution for threats to security and stability from Yemen.

Riyadh will continue to need to find and strike Houthi ballistic missiles and to break up Houthi units penetrating Saudi territory.

The Rusi note said the process had failed to address the fault-lines that allowed the Iran-backed Houthi movement to control the capital Sanaa and other parts of Yemen for seven years.

"Since the Houthis seized the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in 2014 they have also occupied Saudi territory and have subsequently conducted extensive ballistic and cruise missile attacks on Saudi economic and civilian infrastructure, including the Saudi capital city of Riyadh," he wrote.

"Proponents of withdrawing support should not do so under the illusion that it will contribute to ending the conflict.

"On the contrary, Riyadh will continue to need to find and strike Houthi ballistic missiles and to break up Houthi units penetrating Saudi territory.

"Their desire to prevent a hostile non-state actor from holding significant territory will remain."

Acknowledging that the Houthi leadership had been excluded from Yemen's power matrix for decades, Mr Watling added that their current position was unsustainable outside of conflict.

"Once they had access to state arsenals and the instruments of state security, however, the Houthis clamped down on medical and food supplies, have conducted a brutal reign of terror on independent voices in the territories they control, and have taken hostages from leading tribal families," he said.

"They do not hold the loyalty of the population."

The 2018 Hodeidah agreements were a failure and the product of warnings there could not be a military solution to the blockage of the port, which impeded humanitarian access. "The subsequent diplomatic process has failed to deliver peace or much by way of humanitarian relief", he said.

"There must be a more nuanced appreciation of the military instrument as a necessary component in threatening Houthi interests sufficiently to bring about meaningful negotiation."

Mr Griffiths, the UN Secretary General's Yemen envoy, has already taken cues from the US shift and travelled on Sunday to Iran, which has a stake in the Houthi takeover.

Tehran accused of planning Aden airport attack

The trip comes just weeks after a bombardment of Aden airport targeted the internationally recognised government. Maeen Saeed, Yemen's prime minister, said on Monday the operation was planned in Tehran.

“It was planned by Iran,” he said. “The attack is criminal and was aimed at ending the government.”

The UN resolution 2621 represented a founding flaw of the UN process, according to Mr Watling. He said the talks were narrowly framed as negotiations as between the Houthis and the internationally recognised Yemeni government.

This deprived international efforts of the opportunity to engage with those Yemeni interests that have local legitimacy and a voice in a peace deal.