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Hodeida Is Not a Yemeni Affair

June 25, 2018 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Tags: YemenHouthiSaudi ArabiaUAE

Hodeida Is Not a Yemeni Affair

Controlling the city would make Saudi Arabia responsible for distributing aid to 8 million starving Yemenis.

Still, essential considerations in bilateral Saudi-Emirati relations will impact the fate of whatever agreement they have regarding Hodeida. One of these is the UAE's “punching above its weight” as compared to the kingdom. Today's comity between the two is borne of circumstances such as the crisis with Qatar, the threat from Yemen's war, and the fear of Iran's designs. As a small state within the confines of the new Coordination Council or the old—and mostly comatose—Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the UAE will not likely be free to do as it wishes. There have been many instances of severe disagreements between the two over the last decade alone, from territorial issues that led to military confrontations to disputes within the GCC institutional framework. After all, Saudi Arabia, as the largest and wealthiest state within the GCC, does not brook challenges from other states that might act as its equal. While the two countries now agree regarding Hodeida or, indeed, the entire Yemen affair, this should not obscure the distinct possibility that one day they might come to blows if their interests diverge.

The American Factor

In the beginning, the Hodeida operation raised concerns in Washington, despite the Trump Administration’s reluctance to anger the Saudis and the Emiratis. As advancing troops drew closer to the city, the White House warned the UAE on June 5 to halt the assault to avoid aggravating the humanitarian situation. But with the Houthis unwilling to relinquish control of the city, it became easier for the administration to sway, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issuing a lukewarm cautionary statement on June 11 acknowledging the UAE's security concerns. Now that the operation is entirely underway despite all misgivings, the U.S. administration has barely voiced any sustained objection—except for the obligatory reminders about the humanitarian conditions in the country.

Like the Obama Administration before it, the Trump team values the strategic relationship with both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and has continued to supply them with ammunition and equipment, to share intelligence with them, and to refuel their warplanes. The Saudi-Emirati takeover of Hodeida and the undoing of Houthi control over Yemen are welcome steps in Trump’s declared agenda to limit Iran’s influence around the region. In fact, it is evident that the administration’s only hindrance to approving Saudi-Emirati war aims in Yemen comes from domestic considerations, in the form of congressional pressure. Unfortunately, such pressure has not been able to change the way the United States deals with the devastating war in Yemen, which has caused immeasurable human suffering and tragedy.

Imad K. Harb is Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center in Washington, DC.

Image: A man stands next to cars damaged by an air strike in Amran, Yemen June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah