Washington, DC – When the Yemeni government and the Houthis failed to renew a six-month truce in October 2022, serious concerns arose about the resumption of conflict in war-torn Yemen. However, several recent developments indicate peace may be on the horizon.
Global Strat View caught up with Sana’a-based Yemeni journalist Ahmad Algohbary via WhatsApp to get a sense of what is happening. “A delegation of Omani officials visited Sana’s recently and had good meetings with the Houthis. Maybe it is a good sign for peace. They are saying it’s a good sign for peace coming soon, as Oman now is involved in the peace negotiations between Houthis and Saudis,” he said.
But it is more than just the ongoing dialogue being facilitated by Oman between the Saudis and Houthis. Algohbary believes peace could be achieved because Mohammed bin Salman is looking for a way to escape Yemen’s war. “He didn’t think that he would lose the war. Mohammed bin Salman thought that with US support and weapons, they would be able to end the Houthis. But imagine it’s eight years and more now, and they could not defeat them.” The Houthis are in a strong position, and MBS is looking for total peace because he wants to focus on his 2030 vision for Saudi Arabia, says Algohbary.
Vision 2030 was developed by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, which MBS chairs. It includes goals and reform strategies for Saudi Arabia’s long-term economic success, including reductions in subsidies, the creation of a sovereign wealth fund, opening Saudi Aramco to private investment through a partial IPO, and reforms to several industries, including tourism and defense. The vision is developed around three basic themes: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation.
MBS wants to move forward on Vision 2030, but the brutal murder of Khashoggi, the war in Yemen, and relations with Iran all stand in his way. “These issues affected his vision of improving the economy and the infrastructure of Saudi Arabia. He’s also seeking to have the World Cup in Saudi Arabia in 2030. That’s why they signed Cristiano Ronaldo. They want him to be, as news reported, their ambassador to seek for Saudi Arabia to, you know, to have the world’s cup in their country in 2030,” says Algohbary. For these reasons, he wants peace because he cannot implement the vision while Houthis rockets are targeting the country. MBS wants peace with the Houthis but does not want to be seen acquiescing to all their demands. If he gives the Houthis everything they are asking for, he will look weak and defeated, and he wants to avoid that.
In his briefing to the United Nations Security Council, Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg was hopeful that 2023 would deliver a more peaceful and prosperous future for Yemeni men and women. Noting that the overall military situation in Yemen has remained stable, and there was no significant escalation, nor changes in the disposition of frontlines, he acknowledged the parties for continuing to show general military restraints. Grundberg urged all parties to actively work to extend the most prolonged period of relative quiet that Yemen has witnessed in the past eight years, offering a much-needed reprieve for the Yemeni population.
The absence of large-scale fighting is also positive for the continuation of the elements operating under the truce, said Grundberg. Since the ceasefire first came into force on the 2nd of April last year, 97 roundtrip flights have transported almost 50,000 passengers between Sana’a and Amman, with 46 flights operating since the expiration of the truce on the 2nd of October 2022. Similarly, 81 fuel ships have entered Hodeida port, out of which 29 ships have entered since the truce expired. “I welcome the continuation of these measures, which allow Yemenis to continue to experience the benefits of the truce beyond its formal expiration on the 2nd of October,” he said.
Noting the efforts of Oman in the “intensification of regional and international diplomatic activity to resolve the conflict in Yemen,” Grundberg said, “We are witnessing a potential step-change in the trajectory of this 8-year conflict.”
In another positive development, Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed hope that diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh could be restored through dialogue between the two regional rivals. Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran in January 2016 after protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran following Riyadh’s execution of the Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr. Addressing a media conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Amir-Abdollahian said he hoped “diplomatic missions or embassies in Tehran and Riyadh will reopen within the framework of dialogue that should continue between the two countries,” per a report in Al-Jazeera.