Unraveling Diplomacy: Navigating the Complex Dynamics of the Yemen-Israel Conflict
By: Khaled A. BaRahma
Credit by: aljazeera.com
Yemen has garnered international focus following a series of aggressive actions by the Houthi rebels, who initiated the launch of ballistic missiles and drones towards Israel in late October. Demonstrating an apparent enhancement in their capabilities, Houthi insurgents executed a highly coordinated operation on a cargo ship in the Red Sea last Sunday. Utilizing a helicopter descent and fast boats, they successfully seized control of the vessel and redirected it to Yemen's Hodeida port.
The vessel in question, called the Galaxy Leader, is linked to a British-Israeli company with ownership by Abraham Ungar, a prominent figure among Israel's wealthiest individuals. As anticipated back in October, the Houthi faction, recognized as Yemen's most influential group, has broadened its scope to the Red Sea. This strategic shift comes after showcasing the reach of their advanced missile and drone technology by targeting southern Israeli cities such as Eilat.
Following their earlier threats to retaliate against Israel and American assets in reaction to the Gaza offensive, the Houthi rebels declared their intention last week to specifically target Israeli vessels in the Red Sea. In a speech broadcast on the group's Al-Masirah TV station, leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi asserted, "Our eyes are open, constantly monitoring and searching for any Israeli ship."
Security State in the Red Sea Region
The recent actions by the Houthi group have sparked worries about possible disruptions along a critical global trade route that facilitates approximately 14 percent of the world's trade, particularly in terms of hydrocarbons. The Red Sea stands out as one of the most closely monitored trade passages globally, with military forces from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia stationed in Djibouti.
Considering the Houthis' announced intention to target ships, increased security measures are expected to be put in place to forestall potential ship hijackings, especially those involving Israeli vessels. In the past weeks, a Houthi drone heading towards a US Navy ship was successfully intercepted, and Saudi Arabia reportedly thwarted a missile on its way to Israel. These incidents underscore Riyadh's shared regional security concerns with the United States.
The Houthis' recent capability to target ships in the Red Sea serves as a notable illustration of the repercussions stemming from Yemen's ongoing conflict and highlights the heightened challenge posed by the group to the US-led regional order. This development is noteworthy, even in the context of the United States providing support and selling arms to the Saudi-led coalition, aiming to uphold security in the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula.
Of additional worry is the prospect of an increased level of violence in Yemen, pulling the nation further into what is frequently seen as a proxy conflict involving Israel and Iran. The substantial backing that the Houthis receive from Iran and their Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, implies a certain level of coordinated action against Israel.
This is particularly evident in the ongoing cross-border skirmishes between Hezbollah and the Israeli military.
Nevertheless, the individual attacks on Israel by the Houthis also serve the dual purpose of garnering local support and enhancing their popularity as they strengthen their grip on northern Yemen.
Assessing the Status of a Stagnant Conflict in Yemen
Yemen, the least affluent among Arab nations, has endured a catastrophic conflict since September 2014, initiated by the Houthi takeover of the capital Sana’a and the displacement of the Saudi-backed post-Arab Spring government. In response, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened militarily in March 2015. According to the United Nations, the war claimed approximately 377,000 lives between 2015 and 2022. Significantly, most casualties resulted from indirect causes such as food shortages and inadequate healthcare rather than direct warfare.
Presently, a concerning two-thirds of the Yemeni populace, totaling around 21.6 million individuals approximately, faces immediate requirements for assistance, with 80 percent relying on aid for their survival. The specter of famine persists for five million people, and an urgent cholera epidemic has impacted over a million individuals. Despite the diminished spotlight on Yemen in recent times, with attention diverted to conflicts in
Ukraine and Gaza, the United States has maintained some diplomatic involvement.
Tim Lenderking, the US envoy to Yemen, journeyed to the Gulf to collaborate with allies from Yemen's internationally recognized government, as well as partners from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. As outlined by the US Department of State, the discussions were focused on "exploring the essential measures to establish a lasting ceasefire and initiate an all-encompassing, UN-led political process, all while maintaining ongoing initiatives to alleviate the economic crisis and the plight of the Yemeni people."
Despite maintaining communication channels with American partners, the recent series of discussions has not disrupted the existing state of Yemen's "frozen conflict," with the Houthis gradually solidifying their role as the de facto rulers of northern Yemen. At present, Yemen's conflict has reached an impasse, and hostilities have largely subsided following UN-mediated ceasefires and attempts to form a new government. Prior to the recent conflict in Gaza, there was optimism in Yemen's peace negotiations following a historic visit by a Houthi delegation to Riyadh in September—the group's first official visit. Additionally, Saudi and Omani envoys engaged with Houthi leaders in Sana'a in April.
Possible Battle in Yemen?
Opting for a conservative approach, Riyadh has laboriously sought added security measures within the US led security frame, a move accentuated by the deployment of American nonmilitary means to the Red Sea during the Israel- Gaza conflict. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a significant party in Yemen's conflict, also leans towards this station. These dynamics could prompt Washington to endorse a de-escalatory approach in the region.
While Washington may laboriously seek de-escalation, it remains watchful against implicit fresh Houthi conduct that could further complicate Yemen's peace process. In the fate of the weight boat incident, there are reflections within Washington about potentially reclassifying the Houthis as a terrorist group. Such a move could undermine former trust- structure measures achieved through peace enterprise.
The White House declared the durability of a limited military presence in Yemen. While the bared purpose of this small force is to fight Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) in Yemen, specific details, including troop figures, were designedly withheld. Unlike Iran's associates in Syria and Iraq, the Houthis have generally abstained from targeting American means, despite the propinquity of some, similar as Washington's base in Djibouti. This suggests the revolutionists are exercising caution to help provoking more severe responses from Washington.
Regarding Israel, although it remains a target of Houthi attacks, has placed lesser emphasis on its service and political pretensions in Gaza, Palestine. also, Israel is laboriously engaged in skirmishes with Hezbollah, which presents a more immediate security concern. nevertheless, with ongoing Houthi assaults, the possibility of Israeli retribution or trials to fight the group shouldn't be dismissed, especially if the Houthis manage to produce disturbances for Israel. The eventuality for similar conduct may also be told by the duration of Israel's attack in Gaza.
In the event of a heightened and decreasingly ungovernable situation, both Washington and Riyadh might consolidate sweats for de-escalation with the Houthis to guard the stability of the Red Sea. This shift could involve a heightened emphasis on politic accommodations, potentially bolstering the Houthis as a political
force in Yemen. Again, if trust continues to erode, Yemen may face a prolonged absence of a political resolution, aggravating its formerly precarious security and philanthropic circumstances.