By Waleed R. Derhem
It has been a month into the beginning of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, and yet the battle on the ground is not over. The coalition claims a win in achieving the objectives and goals by announcing a glorious end to “Decisive Storm” and the beginning of the second stage of “Operation Restoring Hope”. The win announced by Coalition Forces spokesperson General Asiri highlighted a lot of question marks. Where is the win? Who won exactly? What’s next? Trying to answer these questions, one needs to assess the situation on the ground and reflect on the objectives of “Decisive Storm” and evaluate the media coverage.
One story has been on constant display on Al-Arabiya channel, and it is that of the Yemeni people thanking King Salman and Saudi Arabia for the acclaimed win. Media discrepancy appears in the fact that only Yemeni expats in Saudi were interviewed to express their happiness after the end of Decisive Storm. Why someone would be happy if his own country is being bombarded and its infrastructure destroyed?
On another note, President Hadi addressed the nation from the capital Riyadh and thanked the Coalition Forces for the immediate response to save Yemen from a Houthi aggression and restore his legitimacy. He also used the same language of sectarianism expressed by the Saudis towards the internal conflict, and therefore portrayed a deceiving image of the conflict, which was originally political. If the objective of Decisive Storm is to halt the military expansion of the Houthis, then that has failed miserably as the battle on the ground is still ongoing, and what is worse is that the fighting has stretched to include the heavily populated province of Taiz. If the military objective of Decisive Storm was achieved, then why do airstrikes persist all over the country?
Announcing the end of Decisive Storm and the beginning of Restoring Hope was nothing but a cosmetic change to the military operations of the coalition, and an escape from any humanitarian liability. The increasing civilian death-toll caused by coalition airstrikes targeting hidden missile stores in mountains and military camps in civilian regions brought an end to the Storm and dictated the beginning of the second round of the fight under the name of Restoring “Hope”.
Who won the first round? Well, internally there was no winner in the first round, as the battleground has expanded while no side appears to dominate the scene. Furthermore, the humanitarian situation is growing worse, as food, water and fuel are becoming scarce commodities, while power outages crippled functioning hospitals and bakeries, adding more misery to the civilian population. Regionally, however, Saudi Arabia has skilfully played the role of an Arabian hero through the projection of military power without a licence, and consequently claiming that it fended off the so-called Shi’a enemy from Yemen.
The Saudi military intervention coupled with dominant media tools have successfully established the notion of a Shi’a-Sunni fight going on in Yemen, and now holds its future. Saudi Arabia now controls the borders and airspace of Yemen, and has killed any hope for reconciliation or mediation by demanding that any negotiations or talks should take place in Riyadh. Moreover, they continue to fuel the fighting on the ground by airdropping arms to the undefined popular resistance as in Aden and Taiz, and thus deepening the social crack and contributing to the humanitarian crisis in the name of Restoring Hope.
What is next? A difficult question to answer, but I can speculate that this social crack will continue to exist even if the fight is over, and will set the division of the country in the long term. To elaborate, this intervention has fostered the imaginary identities of Houthi-Shi’a and Anti-Houthi-Sunni, which has overshadowed the one Yemeni identity. The growing grievances produced by the fight on the ground between the ‘us’ and the ‘other’ nurtures this sectarian, and later geographical, division of Yemen.
Politically speaking, Saudi Arabia will institutionalise its intervention in Yemen under a new GCC initiative after the major failure of the UN, highlighted in the role of it Special Advisor on Yemen Jamal bin Omar. The Saudi-led coalition will continue airstrikes under the umbrella of halting military capabilities of the Houthis, while delivering humanitarian aid is becoming a harder task as bridges and airports are among the targets hit. A humanitarian crisis is sadly inevitable in Yemen when “Hope” is restored through military operations.
Waleed R. Derhem is a Yemeni graduate student in the Joint MA Program between the AUC Department of Political Science and the University of Tübingen in Germany.