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Yemen Crisis: Looking For the Peace Under the Wreckage

Yemen Crisis: Looking For the Peace Under the Wreckage

November 14, 2018

While the world focuses on the crises in the center of the Middle East, it is possible to say that the Gulf of Aden will be discussed more in the coming years. Yet, it is necessary to underline that China, Japan, France, the USA, and the UK have built military bases in the region as well as regional actors such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. All strategies of aforementioned states should be regarded as important data for the future of the region.

The Arab uprisings, which started in late 2010 in Tunisia, have spread to Yemen with the student revolt of Sana'a University in January 2011. Yemen, one of the oldest settlements in human history, today faces serious humanitarian, political, and military crises after the 8 years of conflict that we have left behind. The current crisis today in Yemen has been transformed into an arm wrestling among regional powers such as Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, as well as global powers that pursue a commercial hegemony, such as the United States and China.

The geostrategic importance of Yemen

Considering the international trade flow, most of the goods produced in Asian countries such as China and India, are transported from Europe to Yemen. Yemen also holds the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, where approximately 5% of the world's oil trade flows. In this context, the country plays a vital role in the transfer of Middle Eastern oil from the Red Sea to the world markets. Moreover, Yemen is one of the most important destinations of the “One belt, One Road” project that China is trying to realize. While China's project is handling with as a move to break the US's trade hegemony, it also means that to change the political balances in the international system which will cause major challenges. China's realization of  “One belt, One Road” project may cause commercial centers such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi to be replaced by the cities of Yemen such as Hudaydah and Aden. For this reason, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the most important and influential actors in the current political chaos in the gulf area. In this crisis, it must be said that the UAE has dominated many coastal cities in Yemen and has taken control of its ports.

From Arab uprising to the civil war

Ali Abdullah Salih, who is one of the founding leaders of modern Yemen, has managed the country uninterruptedly since 1992. In 2011, the demonstrations against the leader of Yemen, were soon turned into conflict with the uprising of pro-Salih groups.

In Yemen, about 22 million of the 29 million population have been in need of humanitarian assistance. The infrastructure of health and education in the country has falled down and 2 million children have been deprived of education.

In the wake of the escalating conflict in Yemen, with the initiative of the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Gulf Cooperation Organization, Abdullah Salih has agreed to turn his powers to his deputy, Abdurrabu Mansur Hadi. However, it should be underlined that Abdullah Salih remained as the most important actor in Yemen's political scene through the military, economic and tribal relations during the long administration period until he was assassinated. As the founder of modern Yemen, Abdullah Saleh, had a comprehensive knowledge of all political dynamics on his country and allied with the Houthis against Saudi Arabian-led military operations.

This alliance between the Houthis and Abdullah Salih captured the capital, Sana'a, in 2015, without encountering an effective resistance. This case, which deepened the North and South distinction in the region, resulted in the military intervention of the Arab Coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Although the military intervention of the Arab countries under the name of "Operation Decisive Storm", was considered to be successful and prestigious, the military “success” of the Arab Coalition has been suspected due to the prolongation of the war. Although the Saudi Arabian-led military coalition stopped the Houthis' advance in the southern region, it has not achieved significant success in the Northern regions dominated by the Houthis. The failure of the Arab coalition created a serious security problem, particularly in Saudi Arabia's border regions. In this context, it is necessary to emphaSaudi Arabia's lack of a strong military strategy in the war in Yemen means that the southern regions will face serious security risks in the midterm.

Who controls what in Yemen?

Yemen, which has become a field of struggle for local, regional and global actors, is now divided into two separate structures. While the government forces supported by the Arab Coalition dominate the Southern provinces, the Houthis in Yemen dominated the Northern region. In addition to these two main groups, the tribes that are active with the gunmen in their region also have local spheres of influence, however these tribes do not have a nationwide dominance. It is also worth mentioning that there are some small areas under al-Qaeda control as the fourth element in Yemen. Although the effect of these regions in al-Qaeda control has decreased considerably, its existence continues. When we look at the presence of Southern powers in the political and military terms, many large and small groups, as well as the local government and the UAE supported forces, are fighting for dominance in the field. Therefore, it is not possible to talk about the unity of the forces that control the southern regions under one roof.

In the same way, it has also been faced with the struggle for serious domination between local armed groups supported by UAE and the Islah Party followers. In this process, it must be stated that many times the offices of the Islah Party were raided and their documents were seized and burned.

Among the cities in the northern regions, where the Iranian-backed Houthis dominate, the capital city of Sana’a and the port city stand out. The city of Saada, which is close to the border with Saudi Arabia and the political capital of the Houthis community, is one of the places where the Houthis are most influential. In addition to these points, the cities such as Ibb, Amran, Reyma, Zemar, and Mahvit are completely under the control of the Houthis. Although some parts of the Sana'a have been divided, the Houthis keep a large part of the territory under control in this region, especially in Beyda.

In the civil war, children under the age of 14 were put on the front. 75% of the population cannot meet their basic needs such as food and cleaning. According to the United Nations, the number of people who have died of cholera in Yemen is 2200. Beyond, more than 15,000 people were killed and 70,000 were lost.

In the current situation, the point where the war has been locked for months is the city of Hudaydah and the port of Hudaydah. Although the forces led by the Arab Coalition tried to capture this region many times, they did not succeed. In this context, it is necessary to underline that Hudeyde Port is one of the most important destination to determine the future of the Yemen crisis. Because the Port of Hudaydah is the largest port of Yemen and the Red Sea. The port of Hudaydah is one of the few ports where large ships can dock and logistic support such as food, fuel, and medicine to the Houthis-dominated areas is provided by this port.

The Humanitarian dimension of crisis in the Gulf of Aden?                                                                   

In the Arab uprising, while the people have fought for “freedom and human rights”, today Yemen has found itself in conflict and chaos at the end of the eight years that we have left behind. The struggle for the establishment of the “never-built State of Yemen” has left a serious humanitarian crisis. About 22 million of the 29 million population in Yemen have been in need of humanitarian assistance. The infrastructure of health and education in the country has falled down and 2 million children have been deprived of education. In the civil war, children under the age of 14 were put on the front. 75% of the population cannot meet their basic needs such as food and cleaning. According to the United Nations, the number of people who have died of cholera in Yemen is 2200. Beyond, more than 15,000 people were killed and 70,000 were lost.

On the other hand, the militarization of the Gulf of Aden and the race for foreign forces to form a base are only one side of the new power struggles that have begun to occur in Yemen. Although the international community is focusing on the crises in the center of the Middle East, the Gulf of Aden will probably begin to talk more in the future than in the other crisis regions.

Because in the Gulf of Aden there are not only regional actors such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, but also global actors such as China, Japan, France, USA, and the United Kingdom are building military bases. In the context of Yemen, it is clear that in the coming years we will talk about the Gulf of Aden because of the power struggle among global actors, which are trying to dominate the region. That means the crisis in Yemen will continue to be discussed for a long time because of the ‘domination passion’ in the region.