While the Marib front has been scrutinized since the Houthi rebel offensive last February, all eyes have been on the Red Sea in recent days. On November 13, government forces, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, announced they were abandoning their positions south of the strategic port of Hodeidah. Without explanation and to everyone’s surprise. Even the United Nations mission responsible for overseeing the ceasefire in effect in Hodeidah since 2018 had not been notified of this withdrawal, which was described as“Incomprehensible” by the Yemeni newspaper Al-Mushahid.
The Houthi rebels, who have conquered almost all of the west of the country for seven years, immediately rushed into this unexpected breach, offering themselves access to this vital port to supply the capital Sanaa, under their control since 2014. . “It is a real strategic victory for them because it is the main port of Yemen through which passes 90% of the humanitarian aid, essential for the population in a state of near famine in the areas they control”, specifies François Frison-Roche, specialist in Yemen at the CNRS.
How to explain such a “gift” to the enemy? For David Rigoulet-Roze, researcher at the French Institute for Strategic Analysis (Ifas), consider the type of troops that withdrew: the National Resistance Forces (NRF), “Formed from a hard core of the former special forces of the national army”, but also units “Largely structured and financed by the United Arab Emirates”, such as the Giants Brigade (Al Almaliqah), and the Republican Guard. “As many forces which took part in the battle of Hodeïda and would have withdrawn to relocate on the front of Marib”, specifies this specialist of the Arabian Peninsula.
For the UN mission, it is“A major change in the front lines”. “If this is a relocation of troops to strengthen loyalist positions due to the pressure put on Marib by the Houthis, that would imply that the military situation there is bad for the coalition and that the city would potentially be on the verge of publication date “, estimates David Rigoulet-Roze. The last loyalist stronghold in this region, which hosts more than a million displaced people, Marib has seen the Houthi embrace tighten for weeks.
In 2015, Riyadh believed that with the financial and material support of Washington, a few days would be enough to overcome the Islamist movement supported by the Iranians. The Saudis now find themselves at a strategic impasse. “For them, the more or less announced fall of Marib would be a real humiliation and allow the Houthis to dictate their agenda in possible negotiations”, adds David Rigoulet-Roze. Riyadh would practice a form of containment (containment) military on the Marib front. «But that doesn’t make a long term strategy, judge the researcher. Conversely, the Houthis are in a position of strength despite their undoubtedly significant losses and do not appear in a logic of negotiation, while the Saudis would like to be able to come out of this impasse with their heads held high ”, adds David Rigoulet-Roze. The conflict in Yemen has already claimed at least 377,000 deaths, direct or indirect, according to the UN.