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Crisis in Yemen: an Opportunity for the League of Arab States?

by Marian Fritz

Image source: arabic.euronews.com

The insurgency by the Houthi rebels in Yemen may be far away but it has the potential to affect us all.

Yemen is located on the Gulf of Aden, the most used shipping route for world trade and recently it has become a failing state after the Houthi insurgents took over and the government had to flee.

This route was interrupted previously by Somali pirates, however international anti-piracy missions have reduced the impact through guarded vessels and the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). In addition, naval and amphibious missions conducted by NATO, EU and the African Union (AU) are trying to support the Somali government in Mogadishu in order to restore their power. Despite not being able to resolve the problem of piracy so far, successful hijacks have reached an all-time low.

The question now is whether the Somalian situation is adaptable to that currently developing in Yemen or not.

The simple answer is no, it is not; however the situation in Yemen may endanger Somalia.

Somalia is characterized by a weak centralized government with almost no support from the local population. On the other hand, the Yemeni government has the support of the population, however it is under direct attack by Houthi rebels.

At the moment the insurgents are approaching the city of Aden and are conquering various cities throughout Yemen; if Aden is seized, the insurgents will have the opportunity to interrupt the international naval trading routes passing through.

Despite neighboring Saudi Arabia and its allies already having decided to conduct airstrikes against the rebels, the situation is highly unstable. As seen in previous conflicts, airstrikes alone cannot solve a crisis. The Saudi Arabian-led coalition should consider this and accordingly decide whether want to enter Yemen or not.

Should Saudi Arabia not wish to enter Yemen on its own, the most effective solution would be to call upon the League of Arab States to send troops to the region and to support the Yemeni government, originally based in Sanaa however currently taking refuge in Saudi Arabia.

The first phase would be for the operating parties to create a common counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy and to create a central command to ensure that the effective and secure exchange of information is possible.

This mission might be the very first for a possible common rapid deployment force that Saudi Arabia would want the Arab League to establish.

The second phase would then be to enter the conflict with ground troops to fight back the Houthi rebels and to ensure that the entirety of Yemen is back under control of the elected government.

This second phase is of vital importance to the success of the mission. The operating nations should not send too many soldiers to Yemen as the worst-case scenario would result in both the external forces and the government losing the support of the Yemeni population.

The most important aspect of the mission would to build up the infrastructure and to supply Yemen with humanitarian aid, which could be supplied by close cooperation with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), already operating in Yemen but currently interrupted by the Houthis.

If such a mission were successful, the operating forces would have to ensure that they do not lose the support of the Yemeni population. It is therefore vitally important to minimize collateral damage, as this could undermine local support for the international forces and hence the weakened government. In order to prevent potential ethnic cleansing or any attempts of revenge against the Houthi minority, this mission should be monitored closely by the UN.

Neither NATO nor EU should be involved in this mission, except to tighten security and surveillance of the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) to ensure that trading routes are not interrupted.

If nobody reacts to the developing situation in Yemen, it threatens to destabilize whole the region and it may open a corridor for Jihadists from Yemen to Somali, a concern already raised by UN General Secretary Ban-Ki-moon.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

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