The conclusion of the Chinese-brokered Saudi-Iranian detente on March 10, aimed at thawing long-standing feuds and managing competition between the two regional archrivals, has multiple implications for Yemen. For Saudi Arabia, Iran's role and influence in Yemen, with which Riyadh shares a 1,458km border and Red Sea coastline, was once non-negotiable but can now be managed under controlled tensions. Because Iran, which has reaped major strategic gains from its security, military, intelligence and long-term economic aid to the Houthis, is unlikely to grant it just because the two countries have agreed on a tentative roadmap for normalization. In fact, Riyadh's and Tehran's perceptions of threats and ambitions for regional hegemony remain largely the same, as Iran's role and influence in Yemen remain unchecked eight years after the coalition military intervention. Arabic in March 2015.
Both Saudi Arabia andwillethey now support, at least publicly, an extended ceasefire, if not a ceasefire, in Yemen, followed by inter-Yemeni peace talks and the formation of a "universal national government." While this formula could, at the most basic level, offer Saudi Arabia a way out of the military phase of the conflict, it would also allow Iran to gain a foothold in Yemen and present the Houthis with a multitude of options. In principle, Saudi Arabia, which has had limited results after eight years of military intervention and is suffering from war fatigue, and Iran, which has benefited from its growing influence and regional influence over the past decade, agreed to handle their differences and the Hold . certain point to share by then.
For the Houthis, trying to unravel the Saudi-Iranian regional plane of the conflict could mean it will become increasingly localized in the future, allowing the rebels to focus on crushing local players one by one. Like Taleb al-Hassani, editor of the Houthi-run news channel Al Masirah,countedCNN: "If Saudi Arabia continues to wait for a Yemeni-Yemeni deal before leaving, it will wait many years." the Government of the Republic of Yemen (ROYG) and Houthi forces stress that Houthi military operations are far from over. In fact, they are to scale. In 2015, Nabeel Khoury, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council,he wrote, “Saudi Arabia began its war against the Houthis in March 2015; the Houthis started their war against the rest of Yemen in September 2014.” Eight years later, as Saudi Arabia's war against the Houthis nears its conclusion, the Houthis want a de-escalation with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but not necessarily with the rest of Yemen, as they have made clear. his recent climbs.
Der Jointtrilateral declarationThe documents issued by Saudi Arabia, China and Iran offer few details on the confidence-building measures, but include a "collective reaffirmation of respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of [Arab] states." ". Iranian non-interference in the internal affairs of Arab states has long been a demand of Saudi Arabia and most other Arab countries. Yemen has been Riyadh's top priority in its talks with Tehran amid efforts by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah to supply the Houthis with weapons, equipment and ammunition, as well as military advisers, missile experts and drones and free oil and others. things. The Houthis owe their strategic skills, which they used against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the ROYG as a means of coercion, blackmail and deterrence, to the IRGC and the Iranian network of paramilitary forces in the region. Saudi-Iranian détente has a long and difficult road ahead; for Saudi Arabia, “the big test is in Yemen”, as the Saudi writer Abdul Rahman al-Rashed correctly put itexplained. For now, the Saudi-Iranian agreement to restore full diplomatic relations in two months remains far from full reconciliation.
time and context
The Saudi-Iran deal may have come as a surprise, but intensified talks on multiple fronts, including Yemen, since 2021 have shown intent and direction. In 2021-22, Iraq under Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi facilitated five rounds of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Oman's role increased after Kadhimi.leave the office. In those negotiations, the Yemeni archive was undoubtedly one of Saudi Arabia's top priorities, if not the most important, given concerns about Iran's "subversive" role on its borders, not to mention that negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, at times, along with Saudi Arabia took place the Saudi-Iranians.
Talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis that have accelerated since the Houthisrefusedto extend Yemen's six-month ceasefire until October 2022 have reported no progress despite Tehran's continued commitment. Now that Saudi Arabia and Iran are trying to work out a tentative deal across the region, Tehran is likely to use its influence to pressure the Houthis to at least agree to a ceasefire or extended truce.
After facing an internal revolt and tightening Western sanctions in 2022 over stalled negotiations to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is now seeking a tactical thaw on all fronts for further de-escalation at home and abroad. abroad in the Gulf region, including the JCPOA. Given Saudi Arabia's clear national security interests and desire to exit the conflict, Yemen is one of the areas where, on the surface at least, progress in rapprochement efforts can be most easily seen. It is relatively easy for Iran to bring the Houthis to the table by reinvigorating a protracted ceasefire, followed by the resumption of inter-Yemeni peace talks that can last for days, months or years. Implementing any agreements that may emerge from the talks, however, is an entirely different story, given the Houthi's record of failing to comply with peace accords, ceasefires and ceasefires.
Riyadh has been seeking a way out of the military phase of the conflict in Yemen since 2020, as evidenced by its unilateral ceasefire announcements in 2020 and 2021, particularly after the Iranian-backed drone.attacksin Abqaiq and Khurais in September 2019. For the Kingdom to achieve its Vision 2030 goals, regional stability, particularly at its borders, is a prerequisite. When the US and Iran agreed to resume JCPOA talks in Vienna in February 2021, the Houthis refused to participate in de-escalation efforts, instead escalating militarily into central Yemen in hopes of seizing the conquest of the oil-rich province of Marib. The then leader of Hezbollah and pro-IRGC Iranian media outlet Tasnim News AgencyFantasticthe strategic importance of the Houthi offensive in Marib for Yemen and the region. Just as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have used it, Iran has used the Yemeni file as part of its broader effort to achieve its foreign and defense objectives. One consequence of this is that none of the regional actors involved in the mediation or mediation efforts between Iran and Saudi Arabia could offer guarantees and/or benefits that would be accepted by both Riyadh and Tehran, and here China comes into play.
What's in the Yemen deal?
The deal is not zero-sum and offers several short-term gains for Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Houthis, but much less, if any, for the ROYG. Given Saudi Arabia's national security goals, particularly to guard against Iranian-supplied drones and missiles used by the Houthis, Iran would have agreed, at least in theory, to discourage cross-border attacks on the kingdom by the Houthis and other pro-Houthi organizations. Iranians. Paramilitary groups in Iraq and Syria. Between 2015 and April 2022, Saudi Arabia wasto defeatby more than 1,000 rocket/missile attacks and 350 drone strikes, mostly by Houthi and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Existing US defense capabilities in Riyadh were unable to adequately deal with the threats posed by the Iranian-supplied drones. Also RiyadhWaitTehran stops sending arms and drugs to the Houthis to support their remote war effort and their funding for the war.
But the ban on at least seven Iranian arms and drug shipments destined for the Houthis between December 2022 and March 2023 by the British, US and French navies casts doubt on Iran's commitment to the arms embargo laid down in the UN Security Resolution 2216. . recent bansincludingmore than 5,000 weapons, 30 anti-tank missiles, about 1.5 million cartridges, and drugs (including methamphetamine and hashish) worth more than $80 million. Previous deliveries have included surface-to-air missiles, drone kits, and cruise missile engines for ground attacks. It remains to be seen whether Iran will commit to halting the previously publicly denied transfer of arms in the short or long term. The fact that the IRGC has not commented on recent moves by the State Department raises other questions.
Iran, for its part, expects a takeover bid by Saudi Arabialow, if not disturbing, its coverage of internal uprisings in Persian-language media supported by Saudi Arabia, to not allow its territory or airspace to be used for attacks against Iran, and to promote normalization of relations with Syria . Along with these goals, Iran is also pushing for recognition of the realities on the ground in Yemen, particularly regarding the position of the Houthis. On March 23, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani "repudiated statements linking events in Yemen to Iran and stressed the need for realism."respectivelyfor the Iranian outlet Tasnim. In fact, Iran is trying to consolidate its gains in an agile and adaptable way.
The two countries' agreement to reopen diplomatic missions within two months rather than immediately, particularly given the timing of the agreement two weeks before the eighth anniversary of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, suggests that Riyadh may have evidence of what expected in good faith. Iran Yemen is seeking a change in relations with enemies and state and non-state actors throughout the Middle East. Like Dina Esfandiary and Anna Jacobs of Crisis Group,observed, "Riyadh has advanced towards Yemen, a prerequisite for resuming diplomatic relations with Iran."
Impact on Yemen
While Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, for different reasons, wanted to emphasize the diminished role of the US in the region through the China-brokered deal, any thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, or even between Iran and USA, it would be gradual. Yemen, and the Houthis in particular, are reflecting on this, for better or worse. Flexibility with Iran largely requires flexibility with Iranian-backed proxies in the region, particularly the Houthis, against whom Saudi Arabia has led a coalition since March 2015.
Given Iran's relations with the Houthis and Riyadh's efforts to secure a life-saving exit, Saudi Arabia may be seeking a "quick fix" to its problems that would do little to address the true roots of the conflict. Nadwa al-Dawsari, MEI Foreign Scholar,counted Wall Street Zeitung, “Everyone desperately wants the Saudis out of Yemen. They tend to confuse the Saudi exit from the Yemen war with peace." While the international community may see the geopolitical maturation of the situation as an opportunity for a breakthrough, Riyadh's vision is focused on the exit. The post-exit strategy remains unclear and is a work in progress. In the short term, this can lead to the localization of the conflict instead of its permanent resolution. Yazeed al-Jeddawy, research coordinator at the Center for Strategic Studies in Sana'a, told the author that "although the Houthis are interested in a ceasefire and de-escalation with Yemen's immediate border, particularly with Saudi Arabia, they are not interested in a sustained de-escalation with ROYG and the rest of the Yemeni fabric.”
The recent rises of the Houthis confirm this assessment. Ahead of the anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition's military intervention and following the Chinese-brokered deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Houthis have sent five increasing signals domestically and in the region: a Houthi military operation.Distrito de Harib de Marib; Aarrogant military paradewith sea mines at Hodeidah in the southern Red Sea; a militarycrossuse of heavy weapons, including missiles, drones and helicopters, in al-Jawf province on the border with Saudi Arabia; HeDangersuspend the work of the UN special envoy; and a drone strike against the convoy carrying the defense minister, the chief of staff of the Yemeni armed forces and the governor of Taiz en route from al-Moha to the city of Taiz. Through these actions, the Houthis send a series of messages, both internal and external.
Most importantly, while the Houthis have sought escalation on several fronts to underscore their decision-making autonomy and distance themselves from the Saudi-Iran deal, and from Tehran in particular, it hurts not to reach a de-escalation deal. prior to China-sponsored agreement with this effort. His military parade through the Red Sea, which illustrated his attempts to build basic naval capability and possess naval mines, sent a clear message about the potential for maritime escalation. The Houthi military exercise on the Saudi border, similar to the 2015 exercise, highlighted the coalition's military failures and highlighted its more threatening conventional and unconventional capabilities compared to eight years earlier. Along with the recent internal escalations, the Houthis are clearly signaling that any future concessions made by Saudi Arabia, directly or indirectly, and the ROYG will not necessarily spell the end of the conflict. In fact, this may only be the beginning of a new, increasingly localized phase, as the freeze on conflicts may not last long given the geographical fragmentation of control and influence.
In many ways, the Saudi-Iran deal is not a zero-sum game, and the various players involved may want to play different roles going forward. For China, its role in brokering the deal marks an increasing shift in competition from major powers in the Middle East, where the US remains involved but must re-emphasize its regional policies. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran view China as a more neutral mediator and Chinapoints of viewas a "trustworthy friend of both countries". In fact, China is the two countries' biggest trading partner, a major source of foreign currency for Iran, and has strategic ties to Riyadh and Tehran. However, China's promotion of Saudi-Iran rapprochement "does not necessarily mean that Beijing will intervene if Tehran decides to go against it," said Yasmine Farouk, a nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.observed. While Chinese diplomacy now faces a major test due to its new role in the regional security architecture as "sponsor" but not necessarily guarantor, Beijing's involvement will almost certainly undermine its soft power, prestige, and reputation as a leading force for strengthen stability in the Middle East. If successful, Beijing could expand this to other files or regions, including Africa.
China's strategic motives include ensuring greater uninterrupted access to Saudi and Iranian oil, which is vital to its continued economic growth, and protecting its geo-economic interests, particularly as investment in Saudi Red Sea ports increases.Wake up, in support of his Belt and Road initiative. The recent announcement of a US$12.2 billion Saudi-Chinese joint venture for an integrated refining and petrochemical complexreflexesmutual interest in investment and trade. Another strategic goal for China is to raise more questions about the credibility and reliability of the US role in the region, a goal that Iran shares. Riyadh, like Abu Dhabi, was disappointed by what it saw as inadequate security guarantees from the US in its Vision 2030 goals, in part by pitting major powers against each other to maximize profits and enhance its view of the position of negotiation. towards the United States, also on the question ofnuclearcan.
Given China's influence over Iran, the strategic expansion of relations with Saudi Arabia after President Xi JinpingVisitRiyadh in December 2022, the recent sponsorship of the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal and its own strategic interests in the region, Beijing has leeway to bolster its diplomatic position in Yemen if it so chooses. Beijing could eventually position itself, as well as Moscow, to mediate or facilitate negotiations, including indirect ones, between the Houthis, the ROYG, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Oman, particularly if their interests are affected. China is currently in talks with regional sponsors and can continue to take advantage of these relationships if it chooses. In recent months, China's acting ambassador to Yemen, Chu Ch'ing,intensifiedhis visits to Yemen and his investment-oriented talks in line with China's earlier intention to invest in the development of the Port of Aden under the dealfinished2013 entre Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation y China Harbour Engineering Company.
As for Saudi Arabia, by taking this step, Riyadh is seeking to maximize its strategic autonomy, diversify its external partnerships and security providers, and deepen its ties with other major powers to reduce, not eliminate, US influence as the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. and President Joe Biden are reassessing and recalibrating relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Relations. At a time of heightened global instability, perceived US insecurity and multiple security threats, as well as ambitious plans for economic prosperity, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are seeking closer ties with China and Russia. , represent a protection against a fragile unipolar world. US-led US-dominated order and a slow drive towards multipolarity. If the Yemen side of the deal falls apart, Saudi Arabia would have at least tried another route.
For Iran, the deal provides a necessary tactical thaw, allowing it to rebuild its image at home and abroad, garner economic support and try to ease sanctions. Given Tehran's record of deals, including its negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, previous Saudi-Iranian MoUs in the 1990s and 2000s, or the UN Security Council arms embargo on the Houthis , to name a few, there are many questions about whether Iran can really commit to the approximation schedule. Tehran could decide to maneuver by reducing its support for the Houthis in the near term while pressure to build confidence mounts. But it is unclear whether, given the IRGC's military doctrine and the possibility that the Houthis could abandon Iran entirely in favor of Saudi Arabia, Iran will concede the strategic gains it has made in Yemen on its arch-rival's border. All of this suggests that the ROYG will most likely face credible pressure from friend and foe to make significant concessions in favor of the Houthis, a scenario that begs the question of what, if any, concessions the Houthis would make in the future. this stage. and what this means for the prospects for a just and lasting peace in Yemen.
Addressing the regional level of the conflict in Yemen through a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, including through direct and indirect negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, can help, but is far from sufficient given the internal nature of the conflict and its causes. sustained peacebuilding efforts. as well as the complex layers involved. On a tactical level, there could be a breakthrough in the form of a prolonged ceasefire, followed by a possible resumption of inter-Yemeni talks. However, whether such steps would lead to lasting peace remains an open question. For peacebuilding efforts to truly take root in Yemen, they must address the internal roots of the conflict, represent the progressive aspirations of the Yemeni people, and garner regional and international support.
Ibrahim Jalali is a Yemeni security, conflict and defense researcher; non-resident MEI fellow; and co-founder of the Security Distillery think tank. His research interests include the UN-led peace process in Yemen, the US counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen, and the rise of the Houthi insurgency.
Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images
The Middle East Institute (MEI) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization. She does not defend herself and the opinions of the scholars of her are her own. MEI accepts financial donations but retains sole editorial control over its work and its publications reflect only the views of the authors. For a list of MEI donors, clickHere.
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Arabian Peninsula Region.
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