Hodeidah port's cranes are pictured from a nearby shantytown in Hodeidah, Yemen.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ABDULJABBAR ZEYAD)
The battle between a Saudi and Emirati-led coalition and Houthi rebels over the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah is the biggest battle of the three-year war in Yemen. Liberating Hodeidah would give the Arab coalition the upper hand in the war that it is fighting to restore the internationally recognized government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
With a population of 600,000, Hodeidah is the third most populated city in Yemen. It is considered a hub for business and industrial activities and its port is considered the second biggest in the country after Aden port.
The control over Hodeidah port also means the control over revenues from customs and tariffs on exported and imported goods.
Hodeidah has strategic importance: the port city is the main command headquarters of the Houthis on the western coast and contains many important military and security installations, the main gateway where Houthis smuggle in weapons and is a major passage to the capital of Sanaa.
Hodeidah is also the country’s main gateway for humanitarian aid. The port is used to get in aid to areas under the Houthi control.
The “Battle for Hodeidah” comes after several calls put forward by the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition asking the United Nations to take over the port, supervise its operations and force out the Houthi militias.
Since the beginning of 2018, Yemen’s army and the Saudi- led coalition have opened new fronts inside Saada, the Houthis’ main bastion that hosts their major arsenal of ballistic missiles and key leaders.
The pressure in Saada has prevented the Houthis from sending reinforcements to other fronts, including the Red Sea, which helped government forces to advance there.
Cooperation between Yemeni factions contributed to the success of the government forces. The Houthis’ major battlefield setbacks are linked to the death of several of their military and political leaders in Saudi-led air strikes. The death of Saleh Al Sammad, the president of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, who was killed in an air strike in April, was a major blow to the Houthis.
Operation ‘Golden Victory,’ aimed at liberating Hodeidah, the last major coastal area under control of the Houthi militias, was launched on May 11 but was halted for a grace period for UN-led peace efforts. Yemen’s government declared on June 12, that negotiations had failed to force the rebels from Hodeidah and the Saudi coalition began its assault on the port.
The Houthis are increasing their ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia to shore up the morale of their militiamen and to pretend they have the upper hand on the battlefield.
If the Yemeni armed forces backed by the Arab coalition regain control over the city, then all coastal fronts vital for Houthi arms and logistic supplies will consequently fall, especially given that the Yemeni legitimate government has control over the strategic ports of the coastal city of Midi and al-Mokha.
By losing the strategic port of Hodeidah, the Houthis will be confined to closed, landlocked areas. This could force the Houthis into a fight for survival, which may drive them return to negotiations.
Iran has provided the Houthi militias with weapons through the port of Hodeidah, through a line extending from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas through Somali ports and small islands, used to stop and transfer arms by small boats to the coasts of Hodeidah.
As the tide in this war has turned in favor of the Arab coalition, Iran is ready to negotiate over Yemen. The war in Yemen is still far from being over, but the battle for Hodeidah is a turning point – a potential trigger for negotiations to end the war that already claimed more than 10,000 lives.
The writer is the director of research of the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at IDC Herzliya and former deputy head of the Israel National Security Council.
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