190807 al houthi
File picture: Al Houthi rebel fighters ride on gun trucks in Sanaa, Yemen. Image Credit: AP

Saudi Arabia has offered an unconditional olive branch to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It extended its latest peace offering which is aimed at ending the war that is now going into its sixth year and reaching a settlement to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.

“We want the guns to fall completely silent,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said. “It’s an initiative that gives the Houthis a chance to end the bloodshed, and It will be executed if they announce their acceptance of it.” “The initiative aims to end the human suffering of the brotherly Yemeni people, and affirms the Kingdom’s support for efforts to reach a comprehensive political resolution,” Prince Faisal added.

The latest Saudi initiative proposed reopening Sana’a airport, and “depositing taxes and custom revenues for ships carrying oil derivatives to the port of Hodeida in the joint account of the Central Bank of Yemen in Hodeida,” according to published accounts.

The offer was met with immediate welcome from countries around the world. UN Secretary-General António Guterres praised the Kingdom’s initiative to end the conflict and resume the political process, thanking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its support to the efforts of the UN. Speaking to the press, Guterres also welcomed all steps aimed at ‘bringing the parties closer to a resolution in line with the efforts by Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to secure a nationwide ceasefire, the reopening of Sana’a airport, the regular flow of fuel and other commodities into Yemen through Hodeida port and move to an inclusive political process to reach a comprehensive negotiated settlement to end the conflict.’ Guterres urged the parties to seize this opportunity and work on the way forward in good faith and without preconditions. He stressed that an immediate agreement was necessary by all stakeholders to bring Yemen back to a path towards peace.

The Saudi initiative was embraced by the Yemeni government. The United States welcomed the ‘commitment of Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s internationally-recognised government to a ceasefire and negotiations, according to a US State Department spokesperson, adding that “negotiations are ongoing” and the recent ceasefire bid by the Saudis was “one step in the right direction.”

The offer was comprehensive enough to placate all adversaries. Unfortunately, the Houthis were not buying it at first sight. Saying that the initiative provided nothing new, as it still fell short of their demand for a complete lifting of the blockade on Sana’a airport and Hodeida port. Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam responded in a press statement: “We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade of ports and airports and an initiative to allow in 14 ships that are held by the coalition. Opening the airports and seaports is a humanitarian right and should not be used as a pressure tool.”

The ink had barely dried on the latest peace offer when the Houthis responded with their message, sending drone after drone and targeting Saudi cities in proximity of the border with Yemen. On Thursday, the coalition battling Houthi forces in Yemen intercepted and destroyed several explosive-laden drones aimed at Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian aligned Houthis attempted to target universities in both Najran and Jazan. The one drone targeting Najran was destroyed as well as six additional explosive-laden drones fired by the Houthis aimed at the kingdom, according to the coalition.

On Friday, the Houthi group said it had launched attacks against several Saudi Aramco facilities and military sites in the kingdom.

Yahya Serai, a Houthi military spokesman reported on Twitter that the group had launched attacks against several Saudi Aramco facilities and military sites in the kingdom and had targeted King Abdelaziz military base in Dammam and military sites in Najran and Asir. Serai also said they had targeted Aramco facilities in Ras Al-Tanura, Rabigh, Yanbu and Jizan.

Such is not a response expected to the offering of an olive branch. The Houthis by their brutal response have demonstrated that their agenda is not one in the interest of the Yemeni people, nor is their conflict an ideological one. Rather, they are pawns in a much bigger game being craftily manipulated by their mentors back in Tehran.

Perhaps being emboldened by the lifting of sanctions by the US and the continuing encouragement by Iran, the Houthis are falsely swayed and throwing away their chance at a real and comprehensive peace that will indeed silence the guns in their country without the need for further bombs and bullets. The ball is in their court now.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena