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Conversation: Yemen Spirals Out of Control

5 MINS READMar 25, 2015 | 18:57 GMT

Ben Sheen: Hello and thank you for joining us. My name is Ben Sheen. I'm managing editor here at Stratfor. I'm joined today by VP of Tactical Analysis Scott Stewart. We'll be talking a little bit about the ongoing crisis in Yemen. So Scott, as we've already seen from this morning, it's a very rapidly evolving situation on the ground in Yemen. Now at the moment it seems to be for a lot of people a battle between the Houthis and President Hadi of Yemen, but the situation is actually a bit more complex than that isn’t it?

Scott Stewart: Yeah one of the things we need to understand is there is a narrative in the press that this is some sort of sectarian fight between the Shiite and the Sunnis but it's really much more complex than that. You know the Houthis are not just fighting alone. One of their very important allies is the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. He and his forces, he controls and very large portion of the military forces there, and a lot of them are Sunnis. At the same time, you have Hadi working with the tribal types who are tied in with al Qaeda. So there is actually a situation where the former president is really only one step away from working with al Qaeda. So it's very murky. We have the southern forces, the southern secessionists who fought a civil war against the government in the early 1990s. They are still there. So there really are a number of different forces fighting right now and it's very complex.

Ben: And as well as the aspect you mentioned with the Houthis and what they believe, there is a tribal aspect as well. And again it's tied into geography within the country itself. So everything seems to conspire both internally and also the external influences that are affecting the situation at the moment.

Scott: So we have a very complex militant battlefield on the ground in Yemen that is really made even more complex by the fact that we have these external people meddling. The Saudis have long been very active there. The Iranians have tried to be, but there is, we also have to be careful there because there is a lot of people who have an interest to trying to inflate the Iranian role in Yemen to include the Iranians themselves, they want to make themselves appear more important. But really when we look at the real factors inside that are driving this conflict, it's really internal factors. And the Houthis are driven by their own internal calculus. They're not really some sort of Iranian puppet along the lines of Hezbollah.

Ben: And part of the problem we've seen is that actually trapped within this morass we have the civilian population, which is really bearing the brunt of a lot of the fighting. We've seen the complete breakdown of society and infrastructure there as well. How do you think the country can actually, will it be able to pull through this in any shape or form?

Scott: Well we need to understand that Yemen has been on the brink of catastrophe really for a couple of decades now. Not only do they have the issues with feeding themselves, they have serious serious water issues, health issues. They can't provide electricity and water to their people, food to their people. And certainly they can't do it by themselves. Their oil revenues, their energy revenues from gas and oil are declining. And so they really rely upon external aid just to function. So without that external aid coming in from the Gulf, from Europe, the United States, the Saudis, they really can't function. And it is really a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen. So without that outside aid it's going to be very ugly.

Ben: Now at the moment, Aden is heavily contested. There are rumors of Hadi having fled, it's very difficult to know what's actually happening on the ground because there are conflicting reports and it's difficult to get a feed. But is there any way we can get a read on how this is likely to go for the future?

Scott: Well I think that there really isn't a possibility of imposing some sort of reality externally using military force. I mean Hadi and his foreign minister have asked for the GCC and the Arab League to intervene, the U.N to intervene. But I really don’t see anyone having the capability to do that, to impose a military reality on Yemen we're talking multiple divisions having to go in and fight on the ground. I mean there is some possibility of maybe trying to impose a no fly zone. And that could keep Saleh's planes from striking Hadi's palace for example in Aden. But I think it's going to be very difficult to impose some sort of military solution. I think that what we have to see is some sort of negotiated solution where the parties decide that they've had enough. The other part about that’s going to lend itself to a negotiated solution is nobody I don’t think has the power to totally impose peace on Yemen by force. So I think that it's going to take a negotiated settlement to bring all the parties to the table and iron things out. And even then, we're not going to see total peace in Yemen. We're going to continue to see strife. We're going to continue to see tribal problems, al Qaeda problems. So it's going to be rocky. But what we will see is more stability that what we have now.

Ben: Well hopefully that is the way things play out. Scott, thank you so much for taking the time to run through this today. Yemen is a situation we'll be tracking closely. For more, please read stratfor.com.

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