A year after the Saudi Arabian blockade of humanitarian aid into Yemen, fighting between Houthi forces and the Saudi-led coalition has increased around the port city of Hudaydah, where 75 percent of all international aid enters the country.
This fighting could potentially cut off the aid resources, prompting international outcry as famine looms.
The Saudi-backed coalition has been threatening the city for months, but in recent weeks has overtaken desert on the eastern edge of the city, coming closer to surrounding it than before, the New York Times reported on Nov. 6.
Coalition control of Hudaydah would rapidly change the conflict in Yemen, according to Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew Hart.
“If they really capture [Hudaydah] and the Houthis can’t strike back, you will have to deal with low-level asymmetric warfare, things like terrorist attacks,” he said. Asymmetric warfare is characterized by the use of unconventional tactics when there is a drastic imbalance between opposing forces. “You’re gonna have violence for the indefinite future. If the Saudi side really asserts control, that might be the middle of the end. It’s not the beginning of the end, but it’s the middle of the end.”
Hart suggested that the fall of Hudaydah would further the crisis that already exists in Yemen, another example of Yemen being used as a playground within which great regional powers can exert control.
For now, the port of Hudaydah remains open, allowing supplies and resources to pass into Yemen even as fighting continues. Aid workers in Yemen have speculated that the coalition is explicitly targeting agricultural resources.
“If you’re of the view that the goal is to obliterate the other side, one way to obliterate them is to target their civilians and to make sure that you weaken the social support that the other side might have,” Hart said. “One can infer that that is the logic of what [Mohammed bin Salman] and the Saudis are doing, and it appears so far that the United States is, by and large, willing to say, ‘Okay, because we need your oil.’”
Hart explained that the crisis in Yemen, widely condemned by humanitarian organizations and the United Nations, serves a strategic purpose for Saudi Arabia.
“It’s as devious as you can be, but it’s not illogical when you’re trying to win,” he said.
The United Nations warns that 14 million people are at risk of starvation and is considering whether to declare the crisis in Yemen a famine in the coming days.
The recent uptick in violence follows United States Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ call for the Saudi-led coalition to engage in peace talks with the Houthis, backed by Iran, within the month.
“U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen has been bipartisan so far, it is not a decision by the current Trump administration, Barack Obama was more than willing to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen as well,” Hart said. “This is a point of continuity in U.S. foreign policy. It is not a partisan choice.”
The call for peace talks follows the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist. Hart questions whether the international outrage over the murder will lead to change in the public perception of Saudi Arabia.
“Is [killing Kashoggi] gonna be the thing that finally leads people to put pressure on the Saudis as it pertains to Yemen? Because, for the most part, Americans don’t care, they just don’t. It’s over there,” he said. “But the Khashoggi killing, I mean, it was a dastardly thing to do.”