• Arwa Hanin Elrayess

Understanding the Yemeni Conflict In Under 5 Minutes

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

A seemingly unabating conflict that has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in history. But when and why did the situation become so dire?

What’s going on in Yemen?

An ongoing conflict between a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and a Yemeni rebel group called the ‘Houthis’ in Yemen, which has caused a devastating humanitarian crisis.

More than 15 million people, or 53% of Yemen's population, are on the brink of starvation as access to food diminishes every day across the country, causing nearly 400,000 children to suffer from severe malnutrition.

1.1 million citizens are suffering with Cholera as part of the largest Cholera epidemic in the world. More than 3.3 million remain displaced, and, during the past four years Houthi rebels have left tens of thousands dead or injured including at least 17,700 civilians as verified by the UN.

So, how did it all start?

The origins of the Yemeni conflict have been linked to the Arab Spring of 2011, where Yemeni citizens successfully revolted against the dictatorial, former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, forcing him to surrender his rule.

This sudden and surprising shift in Yemeni leadership placed the government in a vulnerable and unstable position, encouraging an anti-governmental group, called ‘Al Islah’, to attempt to obtain total control over Yemen. Al Islah were able to rally the support of many Yemeni citizens, winning 46 seats in the 2003 parliamentary elections, generating widespread alarm in Saudi Arabia’s government.

Saudi Arabia feared that the ‘Al Islah’ organization would fill the power vacuum, allowing them to extend their influence and beliefs to Saudi Arabian citizens. Therefore, they assisted Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, deputy of the former president, to secure Yemeni rule.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman (right) discusses Yemeni conflict with President Hadi (left)

Nevertheless, Al Islah did not pull back. They continued to gather Yemeni citizens’ support, organizing anti-governmental protests and becoming one of the leading political parties in Yemen, thus, broadening their control and reign over Yemeni land.

Who are the Houthis and why did they get involved?

Al Islah’s increasing threat to Hadi's recently established authority, along with Saudi Arabia’s generous, international support, compelled Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to strike a deal with the Houthis.

The Houthis are the largest Shia-Muslim group in Yemen and are renowned for their long-term rivalry with the Sunni Saudi's. Despite this deep-rooted rivalry, the Houthi's were still considered less of a threat than the Al-Islah organization.

So, Hadi struck a deal with the Houthis, convincing them to rid Yemen of the Al Islah organization, in exchange for control over certain Yemeni land and his support.

The Houthis accepted this agreement and successfully weakened Al Islah’s broadening dominance. However, having completed their mission, the Houthis continued to advance on Yemeni land and, by the 9th of November 2011, were said to be in control of two Yemeni governorates (Saada and Al Jawf) and close to taking over a third governorate (Hajjah.)

Houthi expansion from the year of 2012 until 2015

This was catastrophic for Saudi Arabia who feared to be surrounded by another Shia stronghold. So, they retaliated by bombing Houthi military targets, warehouses, villages and communities, killing and displacing thousands of innocent civilians, in hopes of intimidating and terminating the Houthi’s growing rule.

Nevertheless, the Houthis stood their ground. They were dissatisfied with Hadi’s political decisions and the new constitution. Therefore, they arranged mass protests which built up to their eventual takeover of the Yemeni government in 2015. The Houthis declared victory of this revolution and drafted a new constitution (a body of fundamental principles or established precedents.)

The Saudi Arabian Intervention (Arab Coalition):

Saudi Arabia and other countries denounced this revolution as an unconstitutional coup d'état (a violent overthrow of an existing government), ultimately coordinating a Yemeni intervention, known as the Arab coalition.

This intervention was an invasion launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015, leading a coalition of 9 Sunni states from the Middle East and Africa in the aim of returning Yemeni rule back to Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The intervention set ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ into motion. Saudi Arabia began airstrikes, reportedly relying on US intelligence to select and hit targets, including weapons, aircraft on the ground and air defenses. These airstrikes caused thousands of fatal injuries, triggering a series of events that lead to the devastating humanitarian crisis occurring in Yemen today.

Backed by tanks and heavy artillery, Houthi and allied units advanced on central Aden (the temporary capitol of Yemen) unsurprisingly escalating the already-explosive situation.

However, On 21 April, the Saudi Defense Ministry declared it was ending the campaign of airstrikes because it had "successfully eliminated the threat." It announced the start of a new phase code-named Operation ‘Restoring Hope.’

Yet, air and naval strikes continued.

In an attempt to create peace between the 2 parties, the U.S. pressured Saudi Arabia into announcing a 5-day ceasefire that was said to start on the 12th of May.

During this ceasefire, the necessary aid that Yemeni citizens yearned for was finally supplied. Ships carrying humanitarian supplies docked at the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port, as planes were standing by to help evacuate the injured.

Nevertheless, this peace was short-lived as a day after the expiry of the peace treaty, Saudi-led airstrikes resumed on Houthi positions. These airstrikes continued for many months, receiving equal retaliation by the Houthis.

On 8 October 2016, Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a hall in Sanaʽa where a funeral was taking place. At least 140 people were killed and about 600 were wounded. According to The Independent, one rescuer said: "The place has been turned into a lake of blood."

Rescue team pulling victims from the rubble

The Tipping Point: the attack on the largest oil processing facility

The Houthis reacted to this continued aggression by firing missiles and launching bombs of their own. This vicious cycle continued for years, until, on September 14 2019, drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and another major oilfield run by Saudi Aramco.

This attack came weeks after similar assaults on the kingdom’s infrastructure, but none of the earlier strikes had caused so much damage.

The targeted oil facility is known as the “largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world’ and accounts for an estimated 5% of total global production, and nearly half of the kingdom’s output.

President Trump linked the attacks to Iran, claiming that they could be part of a pattern of threats to oil tankers in response to sanctions on Iranian oil that are crippling Iran’s economy. However, Iran heavily denied any involvement in the operation.

Why this attack can significantly affect your daily life:

Mr Trump said recent attacks against Saudi state-run oil facilities have had a negative impact on the US and global economies.

News of the attacks jolted the financial markets, sending oil prices soaring. The price of a barrel of Brent crude surged by 20% early on Monday, however, the prices then decreased after Donald Trump pledged to release some of America’s oil reserves, to make up for the shortfall from Saudi Arabia.

This style of attacks are especially worrying for the global economy as a whole and, considering how easy it was to devastate these vital oil facilities, shows the world how the world’s energy infrastructure is more vulnerable than previously believed, and how it can be viewed as a legitimate target by terrorist groups and organization.

If you want to learn more about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, click the link below:


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