Even a major US arms interception is not enough to save Yemen

Without diplomacy, military operations in the war-torn country can only go so far

The US Navy made a remarkable interception of illegal arms on their way to Yemen recently.  US Navy
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There was cautious and rare hope in Yemen for much of 2022. A two-month temporary ceasefire struck in April was extended twice, bringing the longest stretch of peace to Yemenis for almost a decade, and a period in which to start trying to ease the country's terrible humanitarian crisis, in which 11 million face crisis levels of food insecurity, according to UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency.

But it has not lasted, and its breakdown at the beginning of October has already brought about drastically worrying results.

Most importantly of all, a new round of hostilities endangers civilians. It also paves the way for more fighting, a further deterioration in Yemeni sovereignty and new openings for destabilising foreign forces to take advantage of the country's inability to protect itself.

Iran is most to blame in this regard. It has long included Yemen's Houthi rebels among its proxies across the region. And on Saturday, the US accused Tehran of trying to smuggle more than a million rounds of ammunition and rocket components to Yemen, after American forces conducted a major weapons bust at sea.

After the interception, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, based in Bahrain, said: "This significant interdiction clearly shows that Iran’s unlawful transfer of lethal aid and destabilising behaviour continues.”

In the immediate sense, the bust is good news. Because of the hard work of those involved, 50 tonnes of weaponry will now be denied to criminals. Houthi operations are interrupted and it is clear to them that they cannot act with total impunity.

However, even with the hard work of coalition partners – and the US's Fifth Fleet, stationed in the region, should be lauded – Yemen remains without a solid basis from which to rebuild its security and provide the type of response to tackle problems as complex as smuggling and foreign interference. On top of this, the Houthis continue to target shipping infrastructure, a recent example being the attack on Al Dhabba oil terminal in Yemen's Hadhramaut province. With the world economy already in so much trouble, poor security in large sections of the strategically critical waters around the Gulf cannot be risked.

Almost a decade of hostilities has shown that it is hard for diplomacy to bring a peaceful resolution in Yemen, despite the recent success of the ceasefire. This is not necessarily a failure of diplomacy, rather a sign that not enough is being done.

The UN, western partners and the GCC have shown real commitment. Only on Wednesday UAE President Sheikh Mohamed discussed with Rashad Al Alimi, the Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen, the prospects of strengthening ties between the two nations. Nonetheless, the case for an even more global response is getting stronger.

It is not only Yemen and its neighbours that would benefit. The National has written about how the country has become a hotspot for global smuggling activities, whether in drugs or arms. These operations have reach across the world.

While it has ended, a ceasefire in Yemen did still endure earlier in the year, bringing with it genuine respite. Success again could re-energise diplomatic efforts elsewhere, particularly regarding the many regional issues involving Iran.

Yemen needs help now. It is laudable that the US has stopped a boat carrying weapons that might well have added to the death toll of Yemen's terrible conflict. It is also laudable that this has stopped money being made by criminals, and that the Houthis are being shown they do not have an entirely free pass to act as they wish. But one interception does not end a conflict and it does not do much to build faith in there soon being a plan to build a lasting peace. Getting that will be a lot harder, precisely why there is no time to waste.

Published: December 05, 2022, 3:00 AM