Failed militarily, Saudis seek controlling Yemen’s vital port through UN

Alwaght- The United Nations Security Council in a June 15 “presidential statement” warned against potential attack by the Saudi-led Arab military coalition against Al Hudaydah, Yemen’s Red Sea port city.

This UNSC statement is deemed significant because during the over two years of the Saudi war against the neighboring Yemen, the international body has taken pro-Saudi stances to bring back to rule the resigned Yemen government led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The importance lies in the fact that this is not the first time the Saudi leaders are trying to capture Al Hudaydah from the popular Yemen forces led by Ansarullah movement since the beginning of the aggression against Yemen. The Saudi military coalition frequently heavily bombed the city infrastructure as well as the Ansarullah positions there but was faced by no reactions from the UNSC.

The statement was issued under pressures from the rights groups and humanitarian organizations that over and over warned against deterioration of the humanitarian conditions due to disruption of aids transfer to the famine-hit country through Al Hudaydah port, the only Yemeni sea structure remaining active amid heavy-handed bombardment campaign by the Saudi and other Arab states’ fighter jets.

The UN figures suggest that the number of the people in immediate need for food aids has risen from 14 million in 2016 to 17 million in the current year. David Beasley, the new head of the World Food Program, on Wednesday, June 14 warned that Yemen was already on the brink of hunger crisis, but closure of Al Hudaydah port could push the nation towards a humanitarian “disaster.” Furthermore, the International Organization for Migration had earlier warned that about 200,000 to 500,000 people will be displaced in the port city once the Saudi-led alliance carries out a large-scale ground assault against Al Hudaydah.

More outcry came from the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien who warned that any expansion of fight to Al Hudaydah will have costs that will be paid by the civilians and lead to even more grave hunger crisis.

These warnings by the international organizations provoked the UN into issuing a much-needed reaction, though in form of a belated cautionary statement addressing the Arab coalition and other parties engaged in fighting.

Al Hudaydah significance to warring sides

Saudi Arabia and its allies have been pushing for capture of the strategic Al Hudaydah port, close to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, while it has been held by the Ansarullah forces since the start of Yemen’s domestic conflict. The port gains its value to the Saudis from its proximity to the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb waterway and to the capital Sana’a, where a revolutionary government is ruling.

Now Yemen imports a large part of its food needs from this port, making Al Hudaydah a life line to the capital. Seizing its control or tightening the blockade will put Sana’a and other provinces now held by Ansarullah forces and loyalists to the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in dire straits in terms of food and economy. The Saudis are hopeful that a mix of assaults, encirclement, and famine will lead the Yemenis to yield to the Saudi demands.

Still from another dimension, Al Hudaydah port control by Saudi Arabia means domination of the traffic of all vessels sailing close to the Yemen waters. This is important as the Saudis allege that the Yemeni forces missile capabilities boost relies largely on support from foreign sides like Iran. In September 2016, the coalition forces claimed that they seized an Iranian boat carrying weapons to Ansarullah. Furthermore, taking the port out of control of the Ansarullah is crucial for the US, a military supporter of Saudi Arabia in its war. In October 2016, an American navy battleship destroyed Yemen’s coastal radar systems in Al Hudaydah province by missile strikes following Yemeni missile attack that hit Saudi Arabia’s modern Al-Medina warship.

Al Hudaydah control by neutral forces

So far, the Riyadh-led coalition going to great lengths for Al Hudaydah seizure has proved a failure due to resistance to the campaign by an alliance of the Yemen forces. Saudi Arabia has proposed international peacekeepers deployment to Al Hudaydah, a suggestion faced by the approval of the fugitive Hadi. The scenario, the analysts say, is a plan agreed by the US and Saudi Arabia to set up a no-fly zone over Yemen that will facilitate easier deployment of ground American forces as part of Trump’s regional strategy.

During his last week visit to the region, the UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed proposed a plan for taking “trust-making” steps like handing over control of Al Hudaydah port to a neutral side. Following the proposition, Oman declared fresh readiness to mediate between the opposite sides in accordance with the UN proposal for resumption of the peace negotiations.

Ansarullah may agree with administration of the port by a third party in exchange for concessions made by the opposite side as it understands cruciality of the port remaining open to food and other humanitarian aids importation, though who will be the neutral party to administer the port remains a disputed case.