Yemen nervously awaits signs that a truce involving all main factions can hold, despite a failure to renew it after the most recent deadline expired.
The truce is absolutely vital, not least because the main drivers in Yemen are now shaped by the fallout from the 2018 Stockholm Agreement as well as the global energy and food crisis.
Those living in Yemen are left to grapple with a cascading set of dire daily realities. The failure to achieve peace and restore the national government throughout the country is something to be squarely laid at the feet of the UN.
The agreement was badly rolled out. One of the pillars of the Stockholm Agreement was the Hodeidah Accord, which opened up the Red Sea port and associated road routes to ensure that food and other flows could increase to ease the threat of famine.
Last week, Anis Al Sharafi of the Aden-based Southern Transition Council (STC), which is a partner with the national government, set out how what looked like a viable solution was, in fact, twisted by the implementation.
By overriding the safeguards on how trade and revenues are freed up, Houthi commanders and checkpoints were granted a gatekeeper. The consequences have been downplayed. The outcome is an escalatory cycle, according to Mr Sharafi, that has granted the Houthi leadership “infinite” military and political capacity.
With its new space within the context of conflict, the Houthi leadership has taken the opportunity for a stand that is stubborn and prolonging. “Maybe on the surface it looks like you might have a variable solution, but typically giving [the advantage] to one side causes the problem to become more complicated,” he said in Aden.
Rising oil prices have given the Houthi leadership and its backers in Iran more cause to block an overarching solution in Yemen. As another Yemeni last week observed, the seas around the country’s coast are the main route for energy exportation to Europe and the Houthis are trying to take advantage of this vantage point.
Escalation along that route is obviously something that European countries are very alert to, and the regimes hostile to the West are just as alert to the advantages of disruption of those corridors.
Iranian efforts to have another coast to launch attacks on the tanker lanes to Europe are holding Yemen hostage. This, for the Iranian leadership, is a potential pinch point that would allow Tehran to exercise pressure through escalation.
At a time when Iran’s internal dynamic is one of siege by the opposition demonstrations, this gives Tehran an external card to play to ensure that the international community does not support the regime’s opponents.
For the wartime administration in Yemen, this is a dire squeeze. This is particularly as the people who have fled the oppressive situation in Sanaa or the hardships across the frontlines wait for a return to their properties or towns in dire straits.
“On top of our own population, we have more than 3 million refugees from the north and we have more than a million that have come from Africa,” said the STC representative. “Although there is pressure on our resources, the aid that is given by the international community is given to refugees. Whereas our own people who are suffering from this extra pressure are not getting anything.”
A report published last week by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies drew interesting parallels between the situation in Yemen and the effects of stalemate in Libya, and how the energy economy played into the conflict’s power balance there.
“In Yemen, the Houthis collect illegal fees and levies especially from oil and communications, also confiscating the assets and funds of individuals and entities,” it noted. “In 2020-21, however, most of the Houthis’ fuel income 'likely came from their control of the supply chain and sales via the Yemen Petroleum Corporation and the parallel market'.”
The report also noted how the areas of Yemen that are oil hubs, while never unimportant, are now prized as revenue hubs in a way that was less so before. “Together with the import of oil derivatives, the export of crude oil represents the largest source of potential revenue for armed groups in Yemen,” the report said.
Take that to the next level and there is the trap that Yemen can’t currently escape. That of the families and extended social networks that are now bound up in a decade of fighting for local and national control.
Alistair Burt, the former UK minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa, put it well at an event organised by the Royal United Services last week.
“The benefits of war are evident to a man who has a gun and controls the checkpoint and can extract taxes and has more power over people than perhaps he's ever had in his life,” Mr Burt said. “So what is the incentive to that individual to bring an end to it? Where's the incentive to those holding the guns to stop the conflict?”
Where indeed, when the people of Yemen have been so badly let down by UN diplomacy, is the hope for a viable solution?