Saudi General’s New Warning on Yemen’s Capital Underscores Importance of Latest U.N.-Backed Peace Talks

The Saudi-led coalition will fight to regain Yemen’s capital city from Houthi rebels if current peace talks backed by the United Nations collapse, according to Saudi Arabia’s Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, who has been the official spokesman for the Saudi military during the conflict.

The threat underscores the importance to Saudi Arabia of bringing a lasting solution to its war-torn neighbor on its southern border. “We cannot leave Yemen in a gray area,” Asseri told reporters Wednesday during a visit to Washington, according to Bloomberg. “Having Yemen as a failed state is not a benefit to anyone.”

Brig. Gen. Ahmad Asseri.

Brig. Gen. Ahmad Asseri.

The threat of action if peace talks fail in Yemen would significantly escalate the Saudi-backed coalition’s campaign in the country. Saudi Arabia said that 75% of the country was back under the control of the U.N.-recognized legitimate government thanks to its military campaign in February 2016. The Houthis gained control of Sanaa in September of 2014 in a decisive victory by the Iran-backed militant group.

The war has been costly for Saudi Arabia with some estimates placing the figure at $6 billion a month. Hostilities have slowed since the war began 14 months ago as peace talks continue, but Saudi Arabia is interested in seeing a lasting conclusion to the conflict.  Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir said the Kingdom has “no interest in seeing an unstable Yemen or seeing a Yemen that is devastated” and has accused Iran of destabilizing Yemen in an interview with Der Spiegel, adding that the war in Yemen is “not a war that we wanted.”

“We had no other option — there was a radical militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah that took over the country,” foreign minister Al-Jubeir said. “[Yemen] was in possession of heavy weapons, ballistic missiles and even an air force. Should we stand by idly while this happens at our doorstep, in one of the countries in which al-Qaida has a huge presence? So we responded, as part of a coalition, at the request of the legitimate government of Yemen, and we stepped in to support them. We have removed, to a large extent, the threat that these weapons posed to Saudi Arabia.”

A cease-fire was put into place exactly one month ago today, on April 11th. Since then, negotiators have been working on a solution to the conflict but have not found a breakthrough. Each side continues to publicly trade blame for violations of the cease-fire.

According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Monday, but a Saudi-led military coalition said it would maintain a shaky truce despite the “serious escalation” by the Houthi militia and its allies.