Did the masters of Saudi Arabia believe that they could find in the current health crisis a welcome pretext for withdrawing from a ruinous conflict, a way to finally transform their Yemeni military failure into an honorable exit?
Riyadh announced on the evening of Wednesday, April 8, a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen expected to take effect the next morning. Set for two weeks but extendable, it was presented by Colonel Turki Al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, as a response to the call made on March 25. to the parties to the Yemeni conflict by the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, to silence arms to better face the Covid-19 epidemic.
But, just over five years after the Saudi intervention began against the Houthi rebels, the latter appear as the victors of the conflict, masters of the capital and of the most populated areas of the country.
Despite permanent talks with Riyadh, they do not appear to intend, in a position of strength, to offer the Saudis what they demand. Wednesday evening’s announcement was not followed up by any official reaction, but statements by officials, tinged with skepticism, suggest that the Riyadh decision was not subject to prior consultation.
The Houthis, for their part, stick to a vague proposal for a peace plan, published Wednesday before the announcement of the cease-fire and which implies the de facto recognition of their domination of Yemen by the Saudi side. However, the kingdom still protects the official government in exile of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, isolated in Riyadh at the head of a state emptied of its substance. To accede to the conditions of the Houthis would amount to the Saudis proving to be defeated, a concession that they cannot afford.
On the night of Wednesday to Thursday, the end of the Houthis' disqualification in Riyadh took the still more eloquent form of a missile launch on Marib, a city still nominally under the control of the official Yemeni government.
However, Thursday Guterres welcomed the Saudi decision, calling on other actors in the conflict to act. But, even more than the end of the fighting, the "political solution" that Saudi Arabia said it wanted to achieve on Wednesday still seems illusory.
In 2015 the Saudi intervention in Yemen was thought to launch in the world Mohammed Ben Salman ("MBS"), still a beginner but already minister of defense of his country at 30 years old and who, two years later, was going to be appointed Heir prince.