When Saudi Arabia’s new defense minister gave the order to attack after two months in office, he was convinced that he would achieve a brilliant victory in a few weeks. Mohammed bin Salman was certain that the intervention of his highly armed army in neighboring Yemen, which began on March 26, 2015, would quickly put the Shiite Houthi rebels in their place and advance his own career. The name he gave the operation was at least full-bodied: his fighter jets took off under the slogan “Decisive Storm”.
Instead of a few weeks, the war has now lasted six years – and even in Riyadh people have come to realize that the battle can no longer be won. Mohammed bin Salman, who rose to crown prince in 2017 despite the miscalculation, is now forced to compromise. He instructed the Foreign Minister to make the Houthi rebels an offer: “We want all weapons to be completely silent,” said Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Monday. During a ceasefire, talks should bring about a political solution. As a token of goodwill, Saudi Arabia offered to lift its blockade of Sanaa airport and to allow imports again via the important port of Hodeida on the Red Sea. “I call on Yemen’s government and the Houthis to accept the initiative,” said the foreign minister.
A child dies every ten minutes
The war in the neighboring country not only cost Mohammed bin Salman tens of billions of dollars for military equipment – but also, together with the murder of the publicist Kashoggi, his reputation. Even if the kingdom finally tried to cushion the hardship in the neighboring country with aid programs, the outcome of the war was devastating: 250,000 Yemenis died as a result of the war, and four of the 28.5 million inhabitants were displaced. Four out of five depend on help, millions are starving.
According to aid organizations, one child under the age of five still dies every ten minutes in the country from malnutrition and preventable diseases, including cholera, which is rampant in the country. The epidemic would actually be easy to treat with the right drugs, but because of the Saudi blockade, they don’t get into the country any more than do many aid deliveries. The UN called the situation in Yemen in 2017 the “greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the present” – since then the situation has tended to deteriorate.
The new US President Joe Biden therefore withdrew support from the ally Saudi Arabia for the war that the US military had initially promoted logistically. Biden announced that his country would end “all relevant arms sales” to Saudi Arabia. “Our focus is on ending the war in Yemen,” said a State Department spokesman, summarizing the new position in Washington.
However, the Houthi rebels initially rejected the Saudi initiative. Her spokesman, Mohammed Abdul Salam, said the offer from Riyadh did not go beyond previous agreements, so it could not be taken seriously. The rebels, who a few years ago were mocked by high-ranking Saudi military in background discussions as a barefoot troop without discipline, can currently afford this attitude: They still rule a large part of the territory, including the capital Sanaa. You are now able to attack infrastructure on Saudi territory with drones. And they are about to capture the oil-rich Yemeni province of Marib from the troops of the Saudi-backed government.
Six years after the start of the mission, Mohammed bin Salman is learning a hard lesson that many supposedly superior generals have had to learn: It is always easier to start an intervention than to bring it to an orderly end.