Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in the nation’s capital Sana’a on December 4 following clashes between his supporters and Houthi rebels, former allies in the fight against the Saudi-led coalition. Sergey Serebrov, senior researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told valdaiclub.com about the possible consequences of Saleh’s killing.
The developments, which have been unfolding in Yemen since November 30, leading to the breakup of the anti-Saudi alliance, had a dramatic impact on the balance of forces in the country. Ex-president Saleh, who had ruled the country for 33 years, remained the leader of Yemen’s largest party, General People's Congress. He was considered the person in control of the republican guard and the security service, which largely remained loyal to him, not to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who has been staying in Riyadh since the conflict began.
Therefore, the breakup of this alliance and Saleh’s call to the Saudi-led coalition to turn over the page in exchange for peace resulted in Saudi Arabia’s military support for Saleh and more bombings of Yemen. A bitter armed conflict in Sana’a between the Houthis and Saleh’s forces followed. As a result, Saleh was killed and the whole city of Sana’a is now controlled by forces of the government created in 2016 by the Saleh-Houthi coalition.
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Judging by the information from Sana’a, the ministry of interior is in full control of the situation in the country, and these developments are depicted as a quelled revolt, which had been aimed at Yemen’s defeat in the war with Saudi Arabia. Nothing indicates now that the Houthis are likely to lose anytime soon.
The actual structure of the Yemeni crisis does not fit in the picture of a civil war between the legitimate government and rebels who are said to have staged a coup in 2015. Conflict between the clans, which have ruled Yemen for decades, resulted in a breakup of the powerful tribe-based coalitions, which have served as the foundation of statehood in the north of Yemen since the Yemen Arab Republic was established.
Over the 32 months of the war, Yemenis have suffered so much from Saudi airstrikes, that it is quite possible that the Houthis will be able to retain popular support and continue to repel the Saudi-led coalition. Thus, the war can go to a new level and continue.
On the other hand, it can be expected that the Saudi-led coalition and its commander-in-chief, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman may decide to declare truce due to the death of such a prominent figure as ex-president Saleh. In this case, Riyadh would reap the political dividends. However, if the situation is used to step up the coalition’s military operations on Yemen’s territory with a 20-million population, a new stage of conflict escalation can begin.
From the very beginning of the conflict, Russia advocated political settlement without siding with either Houthis or any other alliances.
Importantly, the role of Iran is overblown, because it has never had direct connections with the Houthis in terms of military support and financing. The part of Yemen controlled by the Saleh-Houthi alliance borders on Saudi Arabia, therefore weapons for the Houthis can hardly be delivered across the border. It cannot get there by sea either, because sea blockade has been in force since March 25, 2015, and all vessels entering Yemen’s Red Sea ports are under very close control.As for the religious ties (both Iranians and the Houthis are Shiites), this is a controversial issue, because Zaidis (the sect that the Houthis belong to) are half-Sunni. They do not share the views of Iranian Shiites and have grounds for contradictions.