January 2, 2018

Seche on the War in Yemen

Executive Vice President Stephen A. Seche discussed the war in Yemen, and the extent of Iranian involvement, on PBS Newshour:

To a large extent, the reason why the war has continued in this fashion is because it sits in a corner of the globe which has not produced the kind of migration into Europe which the war in Syria has. So, therefore, the alarm that’s being raised about the war in Yemen is far diminished from that that we see given the conflict in Syria. So, that being away from kind of the public eye and not creating that sense of threat that’s really prolonged and very protracted has worked to the disadvantage of all the people in Yemen who have suffered on the back pages of our newspapers and not as much coverage on our televisions.

To the question of what the main grievance is in Yemen and who has the upper hand in this argument, Seche responded:

Well, I think it is important to start with the fact that the Houthis, who are a part of Yemen’s fabric of society, have serious longstanding grievances with their government, and with the Saudis, for that matter, too. So, this is kind of where the Houthis are coming from, and they are trying to, you know, grab their part of Yemen and its power structure. Now, the Saudis feel very alarmed, and with reason, by the fact that the Houthis have taken over a lot of the military weapons in Yemen, a lot of the territory, and now control, basically, and exercise a real threat Saudi Arabia finds intolerable, and I agree with them, it probably is.

When asked if the Iranians pose the threat the Saudis and others say they do in the region, Seche said:

…I’m not as persuaded … that the Iranians are the ones that are the engineers behind this. This is a homegrown revolt on the part of the Houthis. The Iranians, no doubt, have gotten more and more involved, and the Saudis have gotten more and more involved. So, now, I think each of these two rivals are seeing Yemen as an arena in which their interests can be served. But, I also think that a lot of what we see now, a lot of the humanitarian issue that’s emerged is a direct result of three years of protracted Saudi airstrikes. I saw data today, from the Yemen Data Project, 15,000 airstrikes have been conducted over Yemen, a country smaller than the state of Texas, over a three-year period.

He continued:

…the Houthis need to be dealt with as a nationalist movement on their own … So, I think what the Saudis need to do is figure out what they can do to extract themselves, because they are getting dug deeper and deeper in the muck of this war. And they have a lot of other items on their agenda that need their attention and their resources.

To the question of whether the Saudis will see a way to extract themselves from the war, Seche responded:

They haven’t demonstrated that interest as yet, nor have the Houthis for that matter, so I think both sides need to realize at this point that the only way they are going to have any of their interests served is by sitting down and negotiating a way out of this. There is no military victory. The Saudis cannot win this war, certainly not the way they have been fighting it for three years. And the Houthis don’t need to win it, they just need not to lose it.