For three years, the war in Yemen has been stuck in an excruciating stalemate. On June 13, the United Arab Emirates launched Operation Golden Victory, a campaign to break the deadlock by seizing the port of Hodeidah from the Houthi rebels who control most of the western seaboard and northern highlands. A successful assault on the country’s biggest port would change the course of the war, but it could come at a steep cost.
Yemen’s civil war started in September 2014 when Houthi rebels seized the capital. This extended coup escalated in March 2015, when a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened to counter the Houthis, whom they see as an Iranian proxy. Despite the coalition’s promises of a quick victory, however, the fighting soon stagnated. Efforts to reach a political settlement have been fruitless; the last peace talks collapsed in 2016. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation has dramatically deteriorated. According to the UN, 8.4 million Yemenis are now on the brink of starvation and another 14 million people require some kind of humanitarian aid.
Today, all sides are digging in for what could be the most intensive battle of the war to date. After spending the last year making their way up the Red Sea coast, forces backed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia’s main coalition ally claim that they have seized Hodeidah airport, which lies on the outskirts of the city. What comes next will likely shift the direction of the war. An all-out battle could upend the balance of power on the ground and profoundly affect any future political settlement. This outcome is particularly attractive to the UAE, which sees the campaign as an opportunity to gain the upper hand in Yemen. But for Yemeni civilians the outlook is grim. Unless the UN can broker a deal between the Houthis and the coalition before the fighting begins in earnest, it is the poorest Yemenis who will pay the greatest price.
LONG TIME COMING
Although observers often focus on Saudi Arabia, the UAE is driving
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