Yemen's Cease-Fire Will Not Bring Permanent Peace

3 MINS READJul 10, 2015 | 10:56 GMT
Houthi supporters rally in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on July 5, 2015.
Houthi supporters rally in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on July 5.

Following continued attempts by U.N. representatives to establish a cease-fire during Ramadan, Yemen's belligerents have finally reached an agreement. That the cease-fire is being enacted without a withdrawal of Houthi forces, something previously demanded by the government of President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi, indicates the minimal impact this cease-fire will have on a resolution of this conflict in the long term and Hadi's limited ability to force the issue with the Houthis despite the Saudi intervention.

Beyond the religious meaning of the Ramadan period, the different parties in the conflict have a clear interest in imposing a cease-fire. Houthis have raided Saudi Arabia on its borders with Yemen and Riyadh has been receiving growing criticism for the collateral damage caused by its bombardments conducted increasingly close to population centers.

The air campaign has, however, imposed a certain rate of attrition on Houthi forces and their allies under the command of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, making moving force concentrations and supplies more difficult, practically eliminating the Houthis' offensive capabilities. Even so, military units loyal to Hadi along with the Southern Resistance militia have not been able to mount a decisive counteroffensive.

Localized, limited gains have been made against Houthi positions, but overall, the battlefield has not shifted as dramatically as might have been expected. This has forced the Houthis to consider that they will eventually face a counteroffensive as their attrition continues and Saudi support to the Southern Resistance movement continues to strengthen the movement. But the Houthis have some time before this counteroffensive materializes. The territory Houthi forces have occupied south of the Saada region, though costly to hold on to, is their main bargaining chip. A withdrawal from these areas is unavoidable in the long run, but Houthi and Saleh forces will avoid committing to this until they win something for it in negotiations. For its part, Hadi's government was not in a position to reject a cease-fire and potential humanitarian aid in favor of stubbornly demanding a withdrawal.

There is no guarantee the cease-fire will be extended beyond July 17, and there has been no real practical preparation for meaningful negotiations to occur during the cease-fire. The cease-fire will most likely end at Eid al-Fitr, when Ramadan ends. In the meantime, the fighting parties will have a chance to relocate forces before the next round of fighting commences.

And even when serious negotiations finally occur between the main opposing parties, or a temporary cease-fire evolves into something more durable, Yemen will merely move into the next phase of conflict. While Saudi Arabia and the Houthis may attain some of their objectives during the current conflict, Yemen has innumerable disputes, some of which will erupt into conflict no matter what resolution the Saudis and Houthis reach.

Hadi loyalists and the Southern Resistance currently both fight the Houthi and Saleh forces, in some places even in joint units. But their alliance is unlikely to survive the current crisis. The Southern Resistance has gained formidable strength because of Saudi arms and training programs, and it will seek to translate this into political heft when the Houthi threat is gone from its regions of the country. In addition to this impending north-south conflict, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has bolstered its position and now controls significant portions of Hadramawt province in Yemen. So while the cease-fire may bring Yemen some short-term relief, future crises stand ready waiting.

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