Is it possible that we are on the threshold of an end to the devastating half-dozen years of civil war in Yemen — regarded by some scholars and Middle East watchers as today’s most serious international crisis?
Fresh diplomatic initiatives, led so far by the United States, signal an already fast-moving way ahead.
- On January 25 the U.S. Treasury delayed the implementation of a terrorist designation that could have cut off humanitarian assistance to Yemeni civilians. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had declared the Houthi rebels a terrorist organization in his last days in office. The Biden Administration is reviewing that ruling.
- President Biden assigned a veteran diplomat and senior Mideast specialist on the region, Tim Lenderking, as a new special envoy to Yemen. Mr. Lenderking wasted no time in getting started. On February 11, he met with Yemen’s internationally-recognized president.
- In an editorial the following day, the Washington Post commented on a series of signals by Saudi Arabia, which has led the war to defend Yemen, that may indicate that the Saudis may be amenable to serious efforts for a ceasefire.
Those signals include:
- The unexpected February 10th release from a Saudi prison of Loujain al-Hathloul, a 31-year-old women’s rights activist who had become a globally-known Saudi detainee in a secret prison, where she was brutally tortured.
- An unanticipated end to Riyadh’s three-year-old feud with neighboring Qatar, settling a dispute that appeared to impede collective Gulf efforts to end the Yemen civil war.
- The Saudi release of two dual U.S.-Saudi citizens jailed by Saudi Arabia since 2019, and a third joint citizen of the two countries, Walid al-Fitaihi, whose looming imprisonment was cancelled.
But tough challenges linger
Among these, according to the Post editorial:
- No one involved in the detention and torture of Ms. Hathloul and violence against other activists, including brutally murdered Saudi opposition leader Jamal Khashoggi, have been held accountable by Saudi authorities.
- Mr. Biden promised during his recent presidential campaign that Saudis held responsible for killing Mr. Khashoggi after dismembering him in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 “would be made to pay the price.” Who’ll ever forget the anguish of Mr. Khashoggi’s fiancee, who waited hours in vain for him to emerge from the consulate, unaware of his murder?
It’s clear, at the same time, that the cost of the seemingly endless Yemen civil war is too much for the Saudis to bear very much longer. That’s especially the case since President Biden announced that U.S. military aid to Riyadh has been cut off as the conflict drags on.
According to the new U.S. Director of Intelligence Director Avril Haines, a comprehensive report on Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder will soon be released.
It’s urgent for the Yemen civil war to come to a speedy end. More than 100,000 people have been killed in that conflict, or died from starvation because of the war’s destruction of farmlands in that poorest of Arab countries. On humanitarian grounds alone, time’s well past for a comprehensive, all-inclusive end to the devastation of Yemen.
The world is watching, and caring
As Britain’s The Economist reminds us:
“The war in Yemen seems to play on in an endless loop. Atrocity follows atrocity. The government is backed by a Saudi-led coalition that bombs civilians. The Houthi rebels are backed by Iran, and recruit children and fire shells indiscriminately into cities. Efforts to make peace seem to go nowhere… To prevent famine would not take much — more money from the Gulf states, a lifting of the blockade, and cooperation from the Houthis (in northern Yemen). Alas, if the belligerents were at all moved by the suffering of Yemenis, the war would have ended long ago.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More