On April 9, Saudi Arabia announced and implemented a unilateral two-week cease-fire in Yemen, which is supposedly motivated by fear of the spread of novel coronavirus.
The cease-fire could indicate that Saudi Arabia seeks to end their involvement in Yemen which would follow the decision of the United Arab Emirates, the closest ally of the Saudis, to scale back its mission in 2019. During Saudi presence, the frontline has hardly moved and the conflict is stuck in a deadlock which is hurting civilians the hardest. Also, the recent focus of the Saudis on diplomatic talks with the Houthis could signal that Saudi Arabia is seeking a way out of the conflict.
The current internal situation in Saudi Arabia might be also one of the reasons for possible withdrawal. Riyadh currently struggles with large loses of oil revenues that are resulting in significant cuts in the state budget. In early March, a deal between OPEC and Russia, limiting oil outputs, fell through. This, together with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic measures, has resulted in oil prices falling by 70 per cent.
At the end of last week, OPEC and Russia finally agreed to the largest evet cut their oil production but this has yet to take effect on oil prices. Therefore, the Saudis are introducing budget cuts between 20 to 30 per cent of all government ministries and agencies. The country is also struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused more than 60 deaths and approximately 5000 infected. In order to cut the expenditures, the Saudi presence in Yemen might be viewed as ineffective and therefore one of the possible places to do the budgetary cuts.
The Houthis strictly refuse this cease-fire. They view it as a time during which the Saudis want to deal with the coronavirus in their country and mobilize their military in order to intensify the strikes after the two-weeks. For Houthis, a total cease-fire might be established only if the blockade of Yemen is lifted so the humanitarian aid flowing to the country can reach the people in need. This two-weeks can hardly help the Yemeni civilians suffering in the country.
The Saudi-led coalition has been engaged in Yemen from 2015 when they implemented a blockade on the country in order to stop the flow of Iranian weapons to the Houthis. The current civil war drags on since 2015 when Houthi rebels conquered the capital Sanaa from the hands of the president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Saudi involvement in Yemen and its aerial strikes are frequently targeting schools, hospitals and medical facilities. Civilians are trapped in a serious humanitarian crisis due to Saudi bombings and blockades.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems the resolution of the conflict might be achievable. Although the Saudi-led blockade of Yemen is still present, the Houthis are still able to strike deep into Saudi territory.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Dominik Zachar
The text has not undergone language revision.