THERE are signs that Saudi Arabia is working on an exit strategy to extricate itself from the brutal campaign — in aid of the Yemeni government — it has led against Houthi rebels since 2015. Last week, Riyadh freed over 100 Houthi prisoners, who were transported by the Red Cross to the Yemeni capital Sana’a which is held by the rebels. The Houthis have naturally welcomed the move; Saudi officials in the recent past have said they have an “open channel” with the rebel movement supported by Iran. Though violent exchanges continue between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition, their frequency has decreased. The rebels claimed downing a Saudi helicopter recently, while Riyadh bombed a market in Saada, the rebels’ stronghold, the other day. However, as compared to the past, the hostilities are currently in a low phase. Interestingly, the Saudis have toned down their rhetoric, which in the initial stages of the conflict was noticeably harsh. Perhaps these changes in strategy have occurred after the realisation dawned on the powers that be in Riyadh that the Yemen war is close to being unwinnable. The Saudis can continue bombing their adversaries for a long time; however, the Houthis, despite being the weaker power militarily and financially, have become adept at giving their richer northern neighbour a bloody nose, with frequent attacks targeting Saudi cities and installations.
For the sake of the people of Yemen, the sooner this futile war ends, the better it will be. The recent moves towards detente should be welcomed, and the Yemeni government must open channels with the Houthis, with Riyadh and Tehran urging their respective Yemeni allies to come to the table. If both sides are serious about peace, there should be an immediate ceasefire, adhered to by all sides, which can pave the way for more confidence-building measures. The Yemeni people have paid a high price caught in the middle of this vicious war; it is time to end the violence and let them rebuild their lives.
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019