An Australian website said that the ongoing talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran raise new hopes for an end to the devastating war in Yemen.
The Conversation website, in an analysis prepared by Simon Mabon, Professor of International Relations at Lancaster University, translated by “The Yemeni Scene”, stated that there is a mechanism for bringing peace to Yemen, and it is now the focus of discussion between Saudi and Iranian officials.
He affirmed that all parties have confidence in the possibility of ending the bloody and devastating war for the first time since its outbreak in 2014.
Here is the full text of the analysis:
Yemen: Talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran give hope to end the devastating seven-year war
Simon Mabon is Professor of International Relations at Lancaster University
Recent statements from Iran and Saudi Arabia have given hope of a path emerging to end the bitter seven-year civil war in Yemen that has killed an estimated quarter of a million people and displaced millions.
On September 21, officials from Saudi Arabia and Iran – the two largest powers in the Middle East and arch-rivals – met at the Baghdad conference for the fourth round of talks aimed at improving relations. Three more rounds of direct talks took place under moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. There was a short hiatus in August when new – and deeply conservative – President Ibrahim Raisi took office, but in recent weeks the talks have given new impetus.
At the beginning of October, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud expressed his hope that the talks would form “the basis for addressing the outstanding issues between the two sides.” The following day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters that all parties were “trying to start a sustainable relationship within a mutually beneficial framework,” adding that the talks “were at their best.”
The talks came just one month after the Baghdad International Conference on Cooperation and Engagement, which brought together representatives from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and others to discuss regional security concerns. Saudi Arabia and Iran, of course, are pivotal to regional security, but they regularly find themselves on both sides of a regional conflict.
While tensions between the two countries have been high, there has been acceptance in recent years among Saudi officials that Riyadh’s policy of confrontation with Iran has failed. But there is much work to be done not only to address decades of hostility but also the practical aspects of ending the conflict in Yemen. The semi-regular prisoner exchanges will not go so far.
While many date the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran for the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the tensions can be traced much earlier – reflecting a series of issues related to geography and the treatment of minorities. But the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran increased the pressure. The overtly anti-monarchical view of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei did not help matters as the ruling Al Saud family in Saudi Arabia found itself the subject of a great deal of criticism from Iran’s religious leadership.
In the following decades, this rivalry began to emerge in divided societies across the Middle East such as the “proxy arenas” in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and especially Syria and Yemen, with often devastating results. But the conflict in Yemen – a bitter conflict that has so far shown no sign of abating – is the greater concern.
In Yemen, Hadi’s Saudi-backed military alliance has been at war with the Iran-funded Houthi rebel movement but has honed its military skills over two decades of conflict with the Yemeni government.
Observers have also noted that the war in Yemen is actually made up of a number of different conflicts. One of the central issues in this conflict is the conflict between the government forces and the Houthi group, but what increases this complication is the presence of a separatist movement in southern Yemen. In addition, there is also tribal competition in the east and competition between the various branches of the army along the Red Sea coast. These groups receive varying levels of support from outside powers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. These different lines of conflict were drawn in the struggle over the geography of the state, which facilitated its fragmentation.
Resolving tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have a major impact across the region. However, the interplay between regional and local politics means that the fighting in Yemen could derail any regional peace agreements. Meanwhile, tensions persist thanks to the provision of funding by regional powers to local groups in pursuit of increased influence.
As a result, a clear confidence-building – and ultimately peace – mechanism is needed to end the fighting in Yemen. This mechanism is the subject of discussions between Saudi and Iranian officials – but reports indicate that proposals have been made to senior Houthi leaders in Yemen.
For Saudi Arabia, any peace with Iran depends on stopping attacks on its soil by Houthi missiles. This will require Iranian guarantees that Houthi attacks on the kingdom will end. It may also require the reopening of Sanaa airport, which is currently still under siege. In return, the Iranians expect Saudi Arabia to withdraw its opposition to the nuclear deal and resume diplomatic relations.
But building peace is not easy. Two days after the Saudi statement on the good progress of the peace talks, the Saudi forces’ interception of ballistic missiles and “bomb-laden” drones launched by the Houthis towards the kingdom highlighted the severity of the situation in Yemen. So there is still a lot of work to do, but – apparently for the first time since this bitter conflict erupted in 2014 – there is confidence on all sides that this bloody war mess can be resolved.