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Conflicts in the Middle East are often viewed through the lens of identity, ideology and geopolitics that take the form of tribe versus tribe, Sunni versus Shia, Iran and its proxies versus the US and its allies. The genesis of the Yemen conflict cannot be divorced from this underpinning of causes and motivations. However, what differentiates the Yemen Conflict, from other conflicts is the major players and drivers of the conflict and the theater in which it is played out.

Before his current rise to Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) held several leadership roles including Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister in 2015. This coincided with the heightening of the conflict and the bombing of Houthi Rebels for the first time in March 2015.The kingdom has since continued to pursue series of massive airstrikes against Houthi positions and created the formation of an international coalition comprised largely of Sunni Arab countries. In March 2018 Saudi involvement in the conflict entered its fourth year, with no end in sight and the resulting grave humanitarian crisis continues unabated.

The answer to the flow of humanitarian assistance in Yemen depends squarely on establishing a free access to the port city of Hodeidah, which accounts for 70 percent of all food imports into Yemen. The Houthis have held the city since late 2014, and it has become an increasingly vital economic lifeline for the territory they control in the northwest of the country, as well as a major part of the war economy. At the start of the war, the Saudi-led coalition tried to blockade the port, but was convinced by the UN to allow ships to enter after it set up a monitoring system to prevent arms from being smuggled in.

While UN-led mediation efforts have focused on brokering a truce between the Hadi government and the Houthis, diplomats are clear in saying that Saudi Arabia has the final veto on any deal, and that Mohammed bin Salman is the ultimate decision maker. But MBS is said to see a Houthi surrender, or outright military victory, as the only acceptable outcome. Hence, the key to the end of the Yemen war and subsequent humanitarian crisis lies in the hands of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The UN has engaged in mediating a series of peace talks between President Hadi and the Houthis without success, but new efforts are underway to hold a new peace talk in Sweden. Speaking to IRIN before the Security Council briefing on last November, Yemen analyst Hisham al-Omeisy expressed skepticism about how the UN talks have been run until this point, but he said recent events meant some sort of breakthrough was now possible. “Everything that has been tried before is being repeated [by the UN], but there is a twist… the Houthis are under pressure because of Hodeidah, so they may be more amenable [to talk],” he said. “Likewise, the Saudis are under a lot of international pressure [including USA] and the spotlight is on them to look like they want peace. The dynamic is different now. It could put more pressure on everyone”.

So, all eyes are now on Sweden for some breakthrough for peace in Yemen and with that the possible pattering out of the Yemen War.


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