After previously announcing the lifting of the blockade of Yemen’s primary port of Aden, the Saudi regime has told the UN that it will left its no-fly zone and port blockade over remaining areas of Yemen which are controlled by the pro-Saudi government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In addition to Aden, the ports of Mocha and Mukalla will also be reopened.
Although the move is being welcomed by the UN, it will likely have little impact on areas of Yemen controlled by moderate Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia continues to block vital supplies, including food and medicine from reaching Houthi controlled areas in the north and west of Yemen.
The result has been one of the worse man-made famines in modern history which itself has led to a cholera epidemic in Yemen.
Saudi’s move can be examined in the following way:
1. Aden is the de-facto capital of the pro-Saudi Hadi government and the other ports being re-opened are all controlled by the Hadi government.
Aden has become the de-facto seat of power for the pro-Saudi government in Yemen, ever since the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was forced to flee Sana’a in 2015 when moderate Houthi rebels supporting former President Saleh Ali al-Sammad took power in Sana’a.
By opening up the port of Aden, Saudi Arabia is sending a signal that their forces are now in a stable position and can afford to being to re-open their main port to semi-normal activity.
As Aden is controlled by the enemies of the Houthis, there is ostensibly little chance that contraband could arrive at Aden and make their way to the northern regions controlled by the moderate Houthi rebels.
2. A “Mission Accomplished” moment
It is also possible that knowing the difficulties of fighting in foreign conflicts while in the midst of a domestic purge, the Saudi regime has begun to cut its loses and decide to take the prerequisite steps towards partly declaring victory in Yemen by acknowledging that while Saudi’s allies will not control northern Yemen any time soon, that they have built an effective base in the south.
3. A Prerequisite to re-divide Yemen
Ever since the southern and northern Yemeni states became a united republic in 1990, the Southern Movement has been vocal about feeling excluded by the government in the north.
Thus, in the current conflict one has seen an alliance between the Southern Movement and the pro-Saudi faction of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
One of the only ways that the Saudi’s can declare a victory that is actually meaningful, is to re-divide the north and south with the once Marxist-Leninist southern state, becoming a new Saudi ally, where the post-Nasserist north will likely become an ally of Iran, albeit one surrounded by Saudi forces.
4. A geo-political decoy
Alternatively, because pro-Saudi forces control Aden, the move could be a decoy designed to send an insincere message to the wider world that the conflict is winding down, when in reality, Saudi will continue to bombard Houthi controlled areas knowing that Aden is now safely secured from its perspective.
Until Saudi Arabia lifts its blockade and siege of Houthi controlled areas in the north and west, it is premature to say that Saudi Arabia is not still very much intent on crushing the moderate Houthi rebels.
However, this could possibly represent a beginning of a pivot to Saudi’s strategy in Yemen, which thus far has failed to secure meaningful victories against the Houthis.
Ultimately, Muhammad bin Salman’s “reforms” are conditional upon Saudi refocusing its priorities away from regional domination and towards internal matters. It is impossible for a country to undergo the kinds of changes Muhammad bin Salman seeks to implement while still engaging in costly and de-facto failed foreign adventures whether it be the war on neighbouring Yemen or the sponsorship of Takfiri terrorists abroad.
There are many long-term challenges facing Muhammad bin Salman as he continues to consolidate his leadership, however, none of them will be possible if he actually makes good on his threats against foreign powers ranging from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and Yemen.