By: LtCol Michael von Normann, DEU A, CSAG Middle East Branch
02 Mar 2021
In his first foreign policy speech on February 4, 2021, President Biden announced the US would end its support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations in Yemen. The new policy laid out by the President also included the suspension of pending sales of aerial bombs to KSA. In support of this policy shift, the US appointed a special envoy to advance a political solution to the conflict and the State Department announced it would remove the Houthis from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list in February of this year. Although this policy change removes US support to the coalition and lifts pressure off the Houthis, President Biden stated that the US will continue to assist Saudi Arabia’s defense. Regardless of the new Administration’s approach, Riyadh will likely continue its operations against the Houthis and find alternative partners from whom to purchase munitions.
The international community and NGOs welcomed this US foreign policy pivot as good news, but some may be uncertain whether this re-orientation was well-conceived. Since this US policy announcement, the Houthis have launched near-daily drone attacks against Saudi Arabia and increased fighting around the Marib region. This paper explores this policy change’s impact on the war in Yemen in terms of opportunities and time.
- The Houthis continuously show their principal interest is escalating the Yemen conflict. International allies must prevent the Houthis from establishing the upper hand to ensure successful future negotiations.
- Regardless of the new Administration’s approach, Riyadh will likely continue its operations against the Houthis and find alternative partners from whom to purchase munitions.
- To make real progress, the US and international community’s efforts must include Teheran while avoiding generation a Hezbollah-like proxy in Yemen.
- Washington’s pivot drives Saudi Arabia to increase cooperation with other Gulf States, and potentially with other countries such as China, Russia, and Israel.
- European partners should increase security cooperation, particularly to counter small UAVs.
- All parties must now focus on guaranteeing safe conditions for the people in and around Marib, and preventing it from generating an increase of refugees in the region.
- Recent diplomatic normalization between Israel and Middle East countries is promising. The US and allies should take advantage of that momentum and broaden the Abraham Accords to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia closer than ever.
- This “forgotten war” is also closely linked to CENTCOM priorities of “deterring Iran;” “countering the UAS threat;” and “weaponization of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.”
The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.