Civil war in Yemen: any hope of ending it in 2019?

Published November 15th, 2018


There’s mounting international pressure to end the civil war in Yemen that has been going on for over two years. Ironically, the attempt to suppress critics of the war (namely the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi) has opened the floodgates of criticism from mainstream media, which had seemingly grown tired of covering Yemen until this point.

From a layperson’s perspective, the killing of Khashoggi has gotten a lot more mainstream coverage than the actual war in Yemen. No doubt, the killing of journalists to suppress dissent is a major issue on its own, but there’s still a war in Yemen and there’s really no specific end in sight. Sweden is hosting peace talks in Stockholm in December, and there’s always hope for a cease-fire agreement, but at this point it’s hard to tell if this has much chance of succeeding.

Any civil war is incredibly complex. The United States has already sent a message: it’s no longer willing to fuel Saudi warplanes which are engaging in bombing missions in Yemen, which it had been doing since the onset of the conflict. The Saudis support the “pro-Hadi government” against the Houthi movement(Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was interim President of Yemen prior to the civil war, but was forced out by Houthi rebels). The Saudis are supported by allies which, in addition to the US and Israel, include Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany, via weapons sales and other logistical support.

The complexity of the conflict often causes people to miss some of the basic questions. Why do the Saudis (and by extension, their allies) support one faction over the other? One obvious explanation is that the Saudi’s see the Houthi movement as a proxy for Iran: what’s bad for the Houthi movement is presumably bad for Iran. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want a direct conflict with Iran (which would be catastrophic), but fighting the Houthi Movement is more doable. If this sounds familiar, it’s because proxy wars have been common in the 20th century: Vietnam is probably the first to come to mind. Supporting the Saudis seems to be a natural choice for the United States, which also continues to be at odds with Iran – but with the 2020 US Presidential elections approaching, supporting a proxy war in Yemen probably isn’t going to be popular with either party.

So who’s right and who’s wrong here? That’s really difficult to say. The UN has recognized the Hadi government as legitimate, however the UN has also noted human rights violations committed by their allies, presumably on their behalf. If there’s to be a solution in 2019, it will likely have to be a diplomatic solution – because it’s likely that support for military interventions will continue to wane.