The UAE’s troop redeployment from Yemen presents a window of opportunity for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to end the war, the country’s minister of state for foreign affairs said on Tuesday.
Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are leading a coalition of Arab nations that intervened in the Yemen conflict in 2015 at the request of the internationally recognised government to restore its position after being overrun by rebels.
"The Yemeni parties – the Houthis specifically – should see this move for what it is: a confidence-building measure to create new momentum to end the conflict," Dr Anwar Gargash, wrote in an article for the Washington Post.
The UAE official called on the international community to “seize the moment” and end the four-year war.
“It must deter any side from exploiting or undermining this opportunity, stop the Houthis from blocking aid, hasten compromise from all sides and support a determined UN-led mediation effort.”
As the UAE “draws down and redeploys its forces in Yemen, we do so in the same way we began – with eyes wide open," Dr Gargash wrote.
"There was no easy victory and there will be no easy peace. But now is the time to double down on the political process."
Dr Gargash said he hopes the Houthis will "have their eyes wide open to this critical opportunity."
The drawdown and redeployment of forces will not leave Yemen with a security vacuum and the UAE’s military presence will remain, he said.
"We will continue to advise and assist local Yemeni forces," the minister said, adding that troops will remain "vigilant in securing access to critical waterways."
The UAE "will respond to attacks against the coalition and against neighbouring states."
Over the past month, the rebels have increased attacks on vital infrastructure targets in Saudi Arabia such as airports and residential areas. The coalition blames Iran for supplying the Houthis with increasingly sophisticated weapons that helped them launch the attacks.
"Military force alone will never solve Yemen’s Rubik’s Cube of conflicts and constantly shifting alliances – but it has created the conditions for a re-energised peace process," he wrote.
Dr Gargash was referring to a deal reached at UN-backed talks in December 2018 for rebel and government forces to pull back from the vital port city of Hodeidah.
The Yemeni city became the focal point of the war last year, when the coalition attempted to take the key supply route back from the rebels.
"The subsequent UN-facilitated Stockholm Agreement and its implementation have been imperfect, but the de-escalation has saved lives, improved the humanitarian situation and has provided a foothold for a broader political process," Dr Gargash said.
Hodeidah is Yemen’s main supply line for millions of Yemeni civilians.
The UAE has provided $5.59 billion (Dh20.53bn) in aid to Yemen between April 2015 and June 2019, assisting 17.2 million Yemenis in every governorate of the country – including Houthi heartlands such as Saada.
"Our support for large-scale humanitarian assistance programs, as well as UN and international organizations working in the country will continue," the minister said.
The Yemen conflict has displaced millions and left 24.1 million – more than two-thirds of the population – in need of aid, according to the UN.