Threat Update: Saudi-led Coalition Blockade in Yemen
By Maher Farrukh
The Saudi-led coalition's blockade on Yemen could drive popular support to the al Houthi movement as it exacerbates Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. The blockade intends to prevent Iranian support for the al Houthi movement. Yet, it is unlikely to be effective because it does not adequately address smuggling by land, a route increasingly favored to move weapons into Yemen.
The coalition’s escalation in Yemen reflects a broader U.S.-supported Saudi push against Iran’s regional influence. The Saudi-led coalition intensified its blockade on November 5 in response to al Houthi-Saleh forces’ launch of a Borkan-2 ballistic missile at Riyadh on November 4. The al Houthi-Saleh bloc fired two other missiles at Riyadh in 2017, but Saudi officials specifically emphasized Iran’s role in this most recent attack. The attack followed the resignation of Saudi-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who attributed his departure to Hezbollah’s undue influence in his country. Several Saudi officials blamed the missile launch on Hezbollah and Iran, even stating that it may constitute an act of war by Lebanon and Iran. Iranian officials sought to diffuse tensions with Saudi Arabia by denying involvement in the missile attack and temporarily suspending a conservative newspaper that voiced support for it.
The tightened blockade on Yemen will not prevent Iran from facilitating the al Houthi-Saleh bloc’s ballistic missile program. Iran smuggles missile components and other supplies to the al Houthi-Saleh bloc overland through Oman and eastern Yemen, where the blockade has little effect. The coalition destroyed the navigation system of Sana’a International Airport, which has been used to receive humanitarian aid shipments for several months. The al Houthi-Saleh bloc continued cross-border attacks and is now threatening to attack commercial ships from coalition member-states. The coalition and Yemeni Army deployed forces on November 15 to secure the airport and largest seaport in al Mahrah governorate, eastern Yemen, which is more likely to disrupt the flow of Iranian support.
The intensified blockade and sustained air campaign will have disastrous effects on the humanitarian conditions and could increase popular support for the al Houthi-Saleh bloc. The blockade prevents critical humanitarian assistance from entering al Houthi-Saleh territory, prompting UN officials to warn of an impending catastrophic humanitarian crisis and famine. The ports controlled by the internationally recognized Hadi government are not equipped to receive a large volume of aid shipments or distribute the aid to people in al Houthi-Saleh areas, though ports controlled by the al Houthi-Saleh bloc do have this capability. The blockade caused a significant price spike on both sides of the frontline and drove up prices on the black market, further fueling the war economy. The coalition’s increased airstrikes on Sana’a and its blockade may drive support to the al Houthi-Saleh bloc as the population blames the coalition for the humanitarian crisis.
Additional takeaways from the week:
- Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, is using his father’s reputation to bolster his own bona fides as a leader of the Salafi-jihadi movement. Hamza’s increased role in al Qaeda’s media reflects his cultivation as an al Qaeda leader and an effort to draw recruits away from ISIS.
- ISIS resumed an attack campaign in Aden after nearly a year of inactivity in southern Yemen. ISIS militants conducted two suicide bombings on security targets in a ten-day period. The attacks are likely intended to show strength after a series of U.S. airstrikes destroyed ISIS training camps in central Yemen.