Context: The Saudi-led coalition began a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen’s long war in April,2020 saying it hoped the initiative would prevent coronavirus and lead to a wider political solution.

About the war

  • The Yemeni Civil War is an ongoing conflict that began in 2015 between two factions: the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi armed movement, along with their supporters and allies. 
  • Both claim to constitute the official government of Yemen.


  • The conflict has its roots in the failure of a political transition supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising in 2011
    • The spring forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
    • However Mr. Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by jihadists, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of security personnel to Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
  • The Houthi movement (known formally as Ansar Allah), which champions Yemen's Zaidi Shia Muslim minority and fought a series of rebellions against Saleh during the previous decade, took advantage of this weakness.
    •  They took control of the northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas.
    • Disillusioned with the transition, many ordinary Yemenis - including Sunnis - supported the Houthis, and in late 2014 and early 2015 the rebels gradually took over the capital Sanaa.
  • The Houthis and security forces loyal to Saleh then attempted to take control of the entire country, forcing Mr Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015.
  • Since then Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at defeating the Houthis, ending Iranian influence in Yemen and restoring Mr Hadi's government.
    • This Saudi Led coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.
    • The Saudi-led coalition feared that continued success of the Houthis would give their rival regional power and Shia-majority state, Iran, a foothold in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour.

Major Stakeholders in the Yemen Crisis

  1. Houthis
    1. The Houthis are a modern movement born of very recent events but with deep historical roots in Yemeni religious tradition. 
      1. It is important to distinguish between the Houthi clan and the Houthi movement. 
      2. The former is a prestigious line of Zaydi scholars, a branch of Shiism that arrived in Yemen in the ninth century. 
      3. The latter emerged in the modern context of the 1962 republican revolution that overthrew the Zaydi Imamate, the repressive tactics of the regime of ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Saleh, and the rise of Iranian revolutionary Islam opposed to American hegemony in the region.
  2. Domestic opponents to the Houthis (Diverse and disunited) 
    1. Southerners 
      1. They perceive the Houthis as yet another wave of northern invaders intent upon subduing the South, 
    2. The new Salafi movement, who oppose them on religious grounds, 
    3. The Islah Party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, who fight the Houthis on political grounds, 
    4. A broad array of nationalists, liberals, and others, who contest their rule by force of arms
    5. And finally the remnants of Saleh’s supporters after his murder in December 2017. 
  3. The Saudis and the Emiratis are using Yemen to flex their new military muscle and impose their own security order in the Arabian Peninsula. 
    1. Their overarching goals in Yemen are repression of Islamic political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafi Sahwa that might challenge the rule of the Gulf monarchies on the one hand, and countering Iranian influence in the region on the other hand. 
    2. The Houthis fall into both categories, as they are an Islamic political movement and at the same time friendly with Iran.
  4. Finally, the United States, Iran, and Qatar play lesser roles in the war
    1. Washington remains focused on combating al-Qaeda and sees instability in the country as a major contributor to al-Qaeda’s strength. 
      1. It wants a political settlement in Yemen to stabilize the government, but it also strongly backs Saudi Arabia, whose military campaign in Yemen contributes to instability. 
    2. Iranians have little direct role in Yemen, but they do supply political support and inspire the Houthi leadership’s worldview
      1. Although Iran may provide small but significant military support, its objective is rather to irritate the Saudis at very little cost. 
    3. Qatar plays an even smaller role, supporting the traditional Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and is close to the Yemeni Islah Party, whose armed forces control the Eastern desert area of Ma’rib and are strong in Taiz. 
      1. At present, Qatar is locked in a political stalemate with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and thus sometimes undermines Saudi efforts in Yemen.

Current Situation and Developments

  • At the start of the war Saudi officials forecast that it would last only a few weeks. But four years of military stalemate have followed.

Source: BBC

  • Mr Hadi's government has established a temporary home in Aden, but it struggles to provide basic services and security and the president continues to be based in Saudi Arabia.
  • The Houthis meanwhile have not been dislodged from Sanaa and north-western Yemen. 
    • They have been able to maintain a siege of the third city of Taiz and to launch regular ballistic missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
  • Militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local affiliate of the rival Islamic State group (IS) have taken advantage of the chaos by seizing territory in the south and carrying out deadly attacks, notably in Aden.
  • The alliance between the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh also collapsed in November 2017 following deadly clashes over control of Sanaa's biggest mosque.
  • Houthi fighters launched an operation to take full control of the capital and Saleh was killed.
  • Hudaydah Port Issue: In June 2018, the coalition launched a major offensive to capture from the Houthis the Red Sea city of Hudaydah, whose port is the principal lifeline for almost two thirds of Yemen's population.
    • Later Stockholm agreement for ceasefire was signed which required the parties to redeploy their forces from Hudaydah, establish a prisoner exchange mechanism, and to address the situation in Taiz.
    • While hundreds of prisoners have since been released, the full redeployment of forces from Hudaydah has not yet taken place, raising fears that the Stockholm agreement will collapse and that the battle for Hudaydah will resume.
  • In August 2019, infighting erupted in the south between Saudi-backed government forces and an ostensibly allied southern separatist movement supported by the United Arab Emirates, the Southern Transitional Council (STC).
    • Forces loyal to the STC, which accused Mr Hadi of mismanagement and links to Islamists, seized control of Aden and refused to allow the cabinet to return until Saudi Arabia brokered a power-sharing deal that November.
  • The UN hoped the agreement would clear the way for a political settlement to end the civil war, but in January 2020 there was a sudden escalation in hostilities between the Houthis and coalition-led forces, with fighting on several front lines, missile strikes and air raids.

Impact on Yemen

  • The UN had verified the deaths of at least 7,500 civilians by September 2019, with most caused by Saudi-led coalition air strikes.
  • More than 23,000 fatalities were reported in 2019, making it the second most lethal year of the war so far.
  • Further the war has also displaced more than 3.65 million from their homes.
  • Many more have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease and poor health.
  • About 80% of the population - 24 million people - need humanitarian assistance and protection.
  • Some 20 million people need help securing food, according to the UN. 
  • An estimated 2 million children are acutely malnourished, including almost 360,000 children under five years old who are struggling to survive.
  • With only half of the country's 3,500 medical facilities fully functioning, almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare. And almost 18 million do not have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation.
  • Consequently, the country  has to deal with the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded since 2016 which has resulted in more than 2.2 million suspected cases and 3,895 related deaths.

War’s significance for the world:

  • What happens in Yemen can greatly exacerbate regional tensions
  • It is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.
  • Gulf Arab states - backers of President Hadi - have accused Iran of bolstering the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this.
  • It also worries the West because of the threat of terrorist attacks - such as from al-Qaeda or IS affiliates - emanating from the country as it becomes more unstable.
  • Yemen is also strategically important because it sits on Bab-el-Mandeb strait .


Bab-el-Mandeb strait:

  • The Bab-el-Mandeb is a strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. 
  • It connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden
  • It is very significant as much of the world's oil shipments pass through it.
  • It is strategically very important as without this strait there would be no efficacy of suez canal and time for transit between Europe and Asia would be considerably increased.

Significance for India:

  • The conflict is also significant for India who persistently tries to balance the 3 poles of the Middle east i.e Saudi, Iran and Israel in its foreign policy.
  • If peace is not restored, then this fine balance might collapse which in turn will jeopardize India’s Interests
  • It might impair India’s Energy interest as a significant proportion of oil is imported from the region and its surroundings.
  • Further infrastructure projects like Chabahar port development in the region might get delayed due to rising instability.
  • Indian Ships also pass through Bab el mandeb strait for transporting goods to and fro Europe.
  • India has 3rd largest Muslim population and strenthening of violent islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the region might enhance radicalisation in India.
  • A considerable amount of Indian Diaspora works in the Gulf region whose security and livelihood depends on this conflict and a rise in violence might deprive them of jobs and  induce them to migrate back to India.  
  • More Evacuation Operations like Operation Rahat ( 2015 operation to rescue Indians from Yemen ) will be launched to evacuate people from Yemen.

Way Ahead:

  • The Iran-backed Houthi rebels have not formally responded to the coalition’s declaration of a two-week pause in the five-year conflict. 
  • If the ceasefire does hold, it would be the first breakthrough since the warring parties agreed to a UN-brokered truce in Hodeida during talks in Sweden in late 2018. 
  • Yemen is in the middle of what has been called the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster
  • Concluding the war will require first and foremost a reconciliation between the Saudis and the Houthis, and then a formula to restart a political process that includes the Houthis and their opponents in a national reconciliation government. 



Image Source: Reuters