The Saudi-led coalition battling the Iran-backed Al Houthis, in the quest to uphold the legitimacy of the Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi government in Yemen, has embarked, with full force, on an operation to liberate the strategic port city of Hodeida. In a clear sign of the coalition’s commitment to drive Al Houthis from Hodeida, this battle will also mark the first major street-to-street urban fighting for the coalition since it intervened militarily in Yemen in 2015.
Yemen’s government and the coalition have exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the militia from the port of Hodeida, and freeing it from Al Houthis will be a milestone in the struggle to regain the country from the militia’s grip.
Despite repeated warnings and deadlines, Al Houthis have failed to withdraw from Hodeida or hand over the port to the UN.
Since its intervention in Yemen, the coalition — alongside Yemeni nationalist forces — has steadily ousted Al Houthis from areas they controlled, to the extent that the legitimate government backed by the coalition now controls over 85 per cent of Yemeni territory.
The importance of Hodeida lies in the fact that it has a direct impact on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It’s the key entry point for humanitarian supplies to Yemen.
But, the port is also considered the main gateway to Sana’a, which has allowed Al Houthis to control the shipping routes connecting Yemen to the outside world, in addition to benefiting financially from taxing the goods that come in.
From the coalition’s perspective, the fall of Hodeida will also be the beginning of the end for the Al Houthi militia, and will secure marine shipping in the Bab Al Mandab Strait. It will also be a massive blow to Iran, which has used the port to smuggle weapons to Al Houthis, thus sustaining their war effort. When Hodeida is liberated, the coalition will be able to box in Al Houthis in Sana’a, cut their supply lines, and force them to the negotiating table.
The sophistication of the battle plan — involving a pincer movement — is a tribute to the planning and preparedness of the UAE Armed Forces, which, along with Saudi Arabia, have been the pillar of the coalition since the start. UAE-trained Yemeni nationalist forces have also been the most disciplined, and potent, on the battlefield against Al Houthis.
The Al Houthi militia can still spare the Yemeni people a lot of hardship and violence if it withdraws from the port city. But there is little reason to be optimistic.