Deal Unites Yemeni Government and Separatists Against Houthis

Stark was the reality of the actual decision-makers and operators of all but the Houthis in war-torn Yemen at the signing ceremony held in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Nov. 5. The figurehead Saudi-backed president of the internationally recognized Yemeni government Abd Rubbo Mansour Hadi was present as his government and UAE-backed Transitional Council of South Yemen signed a peace deal following months of intensive fighting for the control of Yemeni strategic cities and ports. Although the man looked incapacitated as the two strong men of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) and the UAE Muhammad Bin Zayed (MBZ) Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, ran the show.

Personal Agendas Over Conflict

It is not clear how the peace deal orchestrated by the two most powerful players within the Saudi-led coalition in the four-year-old war on Yemen will help end the conflict that has generated one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II. While the two Gulf nations and their proxy militias have engaged in bitter fighting for territorial control, Houthi rebels and the Yemeni national army have scored major advances and victories in recent months. Last September alone, three Saudi-backed and coalition brigades fell to the Houthis and thousands of soldiers and proxy fighters surrendered in a humiliating defeat in the Jizan province close to the Yemeni borders with Saudi Arabia. It was then reported that MBS kept the humiliatingly embarrassing news away from his ailing father, King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Following a series of military blows and a series of successful ballistic missile and suicide drown attacks against vital Saudi oil installations and airports, the United Arab Emirates drew down their troops in Yemen. Most recently, Sudan pulled out many of its forces fighting alongside the Saudis in the country amid signs of deep fractures in the Saudi-led coalition sunk deeper into the Yemeni quagmire for the fourth year running with no sign of a decisive victory yet. In August, the Yemeni separatist movement, backed by MBZ, which seeks self-rule in southern Yemen, targeted government forces as they seized their interim seat in the strategic port city of Aden. The bloody clashes sounded alarm bells in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, raised fears of further undermining the already fractured anti-Houthi alliance along with any chances for working out a negotiated settlement to the catastrophic war in Yemen which has drawn mounting international outrage and criticism.

Therefore, this week’s peace deal between the Yemeni government and the separatists seeking an autonomous rule in the south, seems more of an effort to unite forces and close ranks against their main enemy in Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthis who reign supreme in the capital Sanaa and other parts in the north. However, the Saudi Crown Prince described the agreement as a crucial step towards a political solution to end a power struggle and eventually Yemen’s bloody war. “This agreement will open a new period of stability in Yemen. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands with you,” the Saudi Crown Prince told the Yemeni signatories at the ceremony in Riyadh aired on state television.  Despite this optimistic rhetoric, MBS himself failed to explain how this agreement will effectively help end the war in Yemen at large; that is unless he was referring merely to the southern part of the country and the Saudi-Emirati power struggle there.

Main Points of the Peace Deal

The ‘loosely worded and open to interpretation’ agreement, if successfully implemented on the ground, states that all military and security forces will be incorporated into the defence and interior ministries, introducing a government reshuffle to include the separatists with equal representation, and their armed forces will be placed under government control. It does little more than solve two short-term problems; It prevents a war-within-a-war between the southern separatists and Hadi’s government, and provides more credibility to any future government negotiations with the Houthis.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, congratulated the two sides on the deal. “The signing of this agreement is an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen,” he said in a statement. “Listening to southern stakeholders is important to the political efforts to achieve peace in the country.”

More realistically, the peace agreement will help the Saudis and Emiratis to refocus on fighting the Houthis on Saudi Arabia’s border, and minimize systematic, painful and embarrassing rebel missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, airfields, military and oil installations which have remarkably increased both scale and damage-wise in recent months. This is due to seriously shake the Saudis self-confidence and their trust in the massive, mainly US-supplied arsenal that has cost the oil-rich Kingdom trillions of dollars and abysmally failed to shoot down cheap-to-buy Houthi killer drones.