In Yemen, a turning point in the war

In the wake of the conflict, the Houthi rebels, who have been stepping up spectacular initiatives since the end of September, are building a parallel state with the support of Iran.

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Houthi rebels in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, 21 September. Khaled Abdullah / REUTERS

Rumors of an imminent cease-fire with Saudi Arabia, the prominent propaganda blasts of August's major military coup and the announcement of unilateral releases of prisoners, the Houthi rebels have been multiplying spectacular initiatives since the end of September. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, on 30 September the Houthis released 290 prisoners under a UN-brokered agreement for de-escalation in the country.

This activism comes after this group, with the support of Iran and formerly marginal in the regional equation, found itself projected at the heart of global issues on September 14, after a strike on Saudi oil sites. Five years after the Houthi attacked the Yemeni capital Sana'a, which triggered the operation led by Saudi Arabia in early 2015, the war seems to be entering a new phase. The strike that then tripped the markets, and the Houthists have claimed, has brought the region to the brink, while Iran and its opponents are in the middle of the nuclear arms.

  • Houthi rebels comforted

The territory controlled by the Houthis is home to the majority of the population of Yemen. Five years after their arrival in Sanaa, the rebels resisted the offensives of the Riyadh-led coalition, regularly denounced for civilian deaths and destruction of infrastructure, and even strengthened their control. The blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia favors an economy of war and smuggling that enriches their leaders and makes the population more dependent on power. The situation of conflict evacuates the claims of the inhabitants in matters of governance. In this area, the Houthists managed to nucleate existing institutions or to create their own, holding the reality of power.

Read also UN deplores "war crimes" in Yemen

The Iranian influence has, moreover, continued to consolidate. The delivery of new weapons such as drones or missiles, which allow the Houthists to threaten the powerful Riyadh at low cost, goes hand in hand with the progressive importation of the ideology of the Islamic Republic into the ranks of this rebellion born in the heart of the Zaydi Islam of northern Yemen, yet very distant, at the origin, of Iranian Shiism.

The upgrading of arms that Riyadh is acquiring at great cost from its Western backers will not have been enough to defeat the Houthis. The bombings did not lead to any major victory in the north of the country. In the south, the antihouthist front breaks up. The UAE, another heavyweight in the coalition, does not share Riyadh's strategic goals in the country.


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