The involvement of Saudi Arabia, its allies and Iran made things even more complicated for the civil war in Yemen. The war actually has two actors: the first one is Saudi Arabia and the other is Iran. These two states are continuing to fight by using their local allies against each other. As a result, there is a great humanitarian disaster in Yemen. While tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis had to leave their homes. The worst side of this crisis is that almost 18 million people are facing the danger of starvation.
The popular movements that started to topple the 22-year strict dictatorial regime of Abdullah Saleh, more accurately the uprising that started under the influence of the Arab Spring, turned into a civil war in time, just like it did in Syria and Libya. Abdullah Saleh was overthrown, but neither the Yemeni regime changed, nor were the people given the freedoms they wanted. Mansur Hadi, who took over after Abdullah Saleh, tried to rule the country with chaos and got Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to support him. There was a sort of alliance of different political views behind Abdullah Saleh’s dictatorship. Now as there isn’t such an alliance anymore but Sunni and Shiite militias who try to kill each other, and also the branches of terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Daesh.
Acting with Saudi Arabia, the UAE also became more active on the field in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabia, who lost against Iran in Syria, wants to at least preserve its presence in Yemen, especially with the support of the UAE. Except for these two war-monger countries, the U.S. is also giving great support to the Houthis and continuing its fight against the regional power of Iran.
No one can deny the strategic importance of Yemen. It is the opening gate to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The maritime security of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean can only be assured if you are active in Yemen. Why is this mission carried out by the local powers that are trying to gain influence over the Yemenis, rather than the Yemenis themselves? Why cannot the Sunni and Shiite elements in Yemen unite under their common interests rather than hide behind regional powers and compete to destroy each other?
In fact, this is not a regional issue. The U.S. and Israel also have direct and indirect effects in this civil war. Even Israel thinks that its existence in the Red Sea goes through taking control of Yemen. Their naval presence in the Red Sea shows that it is protecting the interests of the U.S. and Israel rather than the Saudis.
No matter what they say, the only winning power in Yemen is Iran. Iran, despite the Saudi and UAE alliance, is the only power which strengthened its influence over the region. Iran achieved this by using the Houthis, and it is also supported by Shiite militias as well as some Sunni elements among the Yemeni people. Yemen means a lot to Iran and losing its control over the country means leaving the region to the Saudi government for them. That is why Iran is using this civil war as leverage and wants to expand its Asia-Africa and the Red Sea hinterland. In the past, Zanzibar was the opening gate for Iran to Africa. Now through Yemen, it wants to strengthen its influence over Africa as well as its presence in the Red Sea while also trying to clear its way to Asia.
What Iran doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand is, even if they win the Yemen civil war, their presence will never be permanent in this region. That is why, as there will never be a victorious side of this civil war in Yemen, there will be many losers, especially the people of Yemen. The Saudi government, UAE and Iran are aware of this reality, but they don’t want to see and confess this truth because of their arrogance.
Can Yemen be divided?
There is a possibility that Yemen may be divided, just like 30 years ago. However, this division will not end the civil war, on the contrary, it would only fuel it. Because the sectarian differences in north and south Yemen are interbedded. Sunnis and Shiites will continue to exist on both sides and their animosity toward each other will become unbearable. No one must never mention a divided Yemen. Yemen has to remain as a single state and should become a state that can secure its internal safety.
The first step to end the civil war in Yemen and the humanitarian crisis is to persuade both sides. The human-centered policy of Turkey since the beginnings of the crisis can contribute to the resolution of this crisis and end this civil war. Actually, it doesn’t seem possible that any state other than Turkey could assume this intermediary role.
As our President Erdoğan said, “The Khashoggi murder that was not carried out by King Salman but by a high-level Saudi authority” is a key in solving the problem in Yemen. Don’t ask, “What is the connection?” Because with the Khashoggi case, the power and popularity of Crown Prince bin Salman weakened. No sane person could say that Crown Prince Salman will become the next king of Saudi Arabia. Even if he does become king, his reign will always be under the shadow of a murder and continue without having any legitimacy even in the eyes of the Saudi people.
Turkey opened up the way to persuade the Saudi government, now Turkey has become a country which is listened to in the region. King Salman will become aware of this reality and he will want to end the war in Yemen with Turkey’s efforts. The Saudi government will want to improve their image in the eyes of both the Muslim world and in the international arena. The easiest way to improve it goes through Yemen, and Turkey’s intermediary role.
Is persuading the Saudi government enough to solve the Yemen crisis? Absolutely not. Iran also needs to be convinced. However, it seems difficult to convince Iran, which was not convinced to end the Syrian civil war. However, Iran is exhausted and for now, Syria is more important than Yemen for them. Iran will accept to make peace either in Syria or Yemen. Turkey needs to be quick in the peace diplomacy and should urgently solve the Yemeni crisis before it is too late.