The Forgotten War in Yemen


  • Samuel Neuman Bergenwall

Publish date: 2018-06-19

Report number: FOI-R--4602--SE

Pages: 98

Written in: Swedish


  • Yemen
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Iran
  • war
  • armed conflict
  • Saleh
  • Houthi
  • al-Hirak
  • Hadi
  • humanitarian crisis


This report analyses the background, development and consequences of the war in Yemen. First it describes the structural context of and the path to the war. The report discusses how regional, tribal and religious tensions combined with authoritarian rule, external involvement and economic decline destabilized the Yemeni society. These political, societal and economics factors paved the way for uprisings against the central government in both the north and the south of the country, as well as in increasing tensions among elements of the regime. The Arab Spring in Yemen developed into a struggle among regime elites and was followed by a transitional phase that failed to lead to a political solution. Instead, the ex- President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his formers enemies, the Houthis, an Iran-linked rebel movement, joined forces, seized power in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and conquered large parts of the country. This caused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (the UAE) to build a coalition and to intervene in Yemen in March 2015. Since then, the civil war in Yemen has become a major regional conflict. The report also analyses the composition of the coalition, the nature of the military intervention and the failure of diplomacy. The coalition is led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, supported by the United States, France and The United Kingdom, and includes a large number of state- and non-state actors. The intervention has included air campaigns, ground operations and maritime- and air blockades. After three years of war, however, the Houthis still control large parts of the country and are able to conduct guerrilla operations against Saudi territory and missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The international community has so far failed to deescalate the conflict, largely due to the complexities of Yemeni politics and interests of regional powers, as well as due to simplistic analysis, wishful thinking, and biased diplomacy. The report also analyses consequences of the war and provides policy relevant conclusions. The war has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, the collapse of the Yemeni state and economy, as well as increased tensions between regional powers in the Middle East. The intervention has so far been a failure for both Saudi Arabia and the United States, and has resulted in increased Iranian influence in the north of the country and a strengthened Emirati military presence in the south. As long as international diplomacy continues to prove ineffective, and the local actors and regional powers are unable to reach an understanding, peace will be out of reach.