The Saudi-led coalition has set its sights on the coastal town of Hodeidah through which the vast majority of the aid that provides the sustenance for over 20 million people traverses, dangerously risking an exacerbation of what’s been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The over three-year-long conflict that has pitted the Kingdom and its regional allies against the Iranian-friendly Houthi rebels appears to be entering its terminal phase through this campaign, showing that Riyadh still wants to end it by military means. Hodeidah is the Houthis’ only seaport, and capturing it would render the rebels landlocked as well as place the coalition on the southern road to the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, which is still in the Houthis’ hands.p
This past year has seen the conflict escalating on all levels. Not only have the coalition’s airstrikes become fiercer than ever before, but they began to be countered by Houthi missile strikes against a variety of Saudi targets inside the Kingdom and even Riyadh itself. Moreover, Yemen’s internal fault lines have fractured even further with the South Yemeni independence forces’ seizure of the southern port city of Aden which used to also be the former capital of their Cold War-era state. Nevertheless, in spite of the back-and-forth air and missile strikes and the separatists’ successes in South Yemen, the war had pretty much crawled to a standstill with barely any progress being made on the frontlines.
The coalition’s offensive against Hodaidah has supposedly been planned for years already, but last year’s attempt at taking it was abruptly called off after heated international condemnation because of the risk that it posed to Yemen’s already fragile humanitarian situation. This time, however, the international community’s words of caution aren’t being heeded and reporters are barred from the warzone, which has only piqued worries that the coalition might be committing war crimes. Even so, the coalition promised to keep the seaport and airport open for humanitarian supplies in what appears to be a “compromise” for avoiding any louder international criticism than they’re already facing. If Hodeidah is completely captured and can be held, then it would be a turning point in the war.
The military stalemate that had hitherto set in over Yemen raised hopes that a so-called “political solution” was possible, but these might be forever dashed if the coalition capitalizes on the momentum from its potentially successful Hodeidah campaign to make a sprint for Sanaa. That might be much more difficult to take over than Hodeidah and could lead to much worse humanitarian consequences, but credible criticism hasn’t yet proven effective in deterring the coalition. On the other hand, wrestling Hodeidah from the Houthis could allow the coalition to demand an end to the war on their terms while holding the Damocles’ Sword for a humanitarian catastrophe over the rebels’ heads if they refuse. Either way, Hodeidah’s shaping up to be a game-changer.