هديل عويس/ جيروزاليم بوست: حتى مع الاتفاق الإيراني السعودي فإن نهاية الحرب في اليمن بعيدة المنال
Even with Iran-Saudi deal, the war in Yemen is far from over Hadeel Oueis/The Jerusalem Post/April 10/2023
It is time for the US to discuss the war in Yemen as a Yemeni matter and listen to the Yemeni parties more than the regional powers.
All the Arab republics in the region we know today were founded either shortly before or after Israel’s founding. In May 1962, Yemen became one of the region’s most recent republics.
When the Republic of Yemen was founded, only what is now known as North Yemen existed; the South was a separate country. This division lasted until 1990, when the two countries, each with its own capital city (Sanaa for Yemen and Aden for the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen), were united as a single nation.
However, tensions remained following the unification but Sanaa was able to put down a southern uprising in 1994 that sought to restore southern independence. The majority of South Yemenis felt that national unification had been imposed upon them.
When war emerged in Yemen in 2015, the Houthis, a rebel group from the north with ties to Iran, assaulted Aden, the historic capital of the south and killed thousands of civilians. But soon after that, Aden was liberated from the Houthis by South Yemeni armed forces formed and armed with the assistance of the UAE. Aden is now one of the few cities in Yemen that has been totally liberated from the Houthis and is reasonably safe from their onslaught.
The growing strength of southern special forces and the weakness of the Yemeni official army that failed to liberate large parts of Yemen from the Houthis reawakened the southern populace’s longing for independence. A few years after the liberation of Aden, the UAE supported the establishment of the Southern Transitional Council to become the de facto authority in the south. The primary objective of the UAE’s collaboration with the south was to combat AQAP as part of a United States-backed effort.
Since the unification with the north in 1990, the Southern Transitional Council was the first powerful political entity to represent the independence struggle in the south. Although the STC and its military forces were able to maintain moderate stability in the south, political difficulties began to intensify. The majority of Yemen’s important actors, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the General People’s Congress Party, the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, oppose the secession of South Yemen.
Many leaders in these powerful groups that governed Yemen during the previous regime were from the south but they favor the country’s unification for a variety of reasons. Some are personal since they inherited official privileges under the unification, while others are intellectual because they stem from the era of Arab nationalism that was based on the idea of uniting the Arab world.
HOWEVER, TENS of thousands of residents in the south have gathered in recent years to protest the unity and have called for independence. The Southern Transitional Council, which supports secession, has repeatedly requested a UN-monitored referendum on the south’s future.
Will the Iran-Saudi deal impact the war in Yemen?
The new agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia stipulates that Iran would cease arming the Houthis. Even if Saudi Arabia got an easy exit from the Yemen war and was able to halt Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, which pose a significant threat to the Saudi Crown prince’s overall vision for development, the war within Yemen between the Houthis and other players, primarily the Southern forces, could resume.
Saudi Arabia realizes the complicated dynamics inside Yemen that may escalate the war and this is why Riyadh is moving forward with a plan to completely close off its border with Yemen by building a 1000-mile fence on its southern borders.
The Houthis are already attempting to take over rich oil cities in South Yemen and what makes matters worse is that Al Qaeda in the peninsula is centered in the cities where heavy fighting between the Houthis and southerner forces are taking place.
Many media outlets and Western officials remember the Yemen war because of Saudi Arabian and Iranian involvement and if Iran and Saudi Arabia distance themselves from it, Yemen may fade from the news headlines, while the suffering of Yemenis and the chaos that Yemen may once again export to the world will increase.
If Iran and Saudi Arabia agree on an easy getaway from Yemen to focus on other concerns, US envoy to Yemen Tim Linderkeng should continue to urge for a political solution that addresses the core causes of the crisis.
The rivalry between south and north Yemen is a major feature of the Yemeni war and it is still ignored in Yemen political discussions. Fundamental divides in Yemenis’ perceptions of their identity have continued to fuel violence. With the authority that the Southern troops and the STC have today, it’s difficult to imagine Yemen being united again without a bloody war because it’s going to be against the wishes of a large portion of the people in the south.
It is time for the US to discuss the war in Yemen as a Yemeni matter and listen to the Yemeni parties more than the regional powers. Ignoring the eternal stakeholders’ goals and vision for Yemen’s future will extend the war, increase human suffering and jeopardize the region’s peace and the mission of combating Al-Qaeda in Yemen, one of the most violent Al-Qaeda branches in the world.
**The writer is a senior fellow at Philos Project.