by Nicholas Dawson, Forecast International.
The Yemen civil war has expanded south to the coastal province of Shabwa. The Houthi rebels have been engaged against the pro-Yemen government in Marib for several months. Marib is the last major northern stronghold for the pro-Yemen government, and the two forces have been at a stalemate.
The attacks on Marib have been largely unsuccessful for the Houthi force, as it has been pushed back by pro-government forces and the Saudi-led coalition in numerous assaults. A factor that has proven to be highly influential is the use of ballistic missiles by the Saudi-led coalition to neutralize various camps and weapons centers. Along with their effectiveness in targeting key supply targets, the missiles have been successfully used by the pro-Yemen government to neutralize several Houthi offenses. The Houthis’ missiles, meanwhile, have proven largely ineffective in countering the missile defense systems utilized by the pro-government forces and the Arab coalition. So instead of focusing their missiles on Marib, the Houthis have been targeting Saudi Arabian oil tankers, factories, and airports. The Houthis have suffered from high casualties trying to take Marib, including losing several commanders and high commanders. Marib remains a key strategic focus for both competing forces due to its tactical location. Marib has a direct route to Shabwa Province and rich oil fields. By controlling Marib, the force in control can substantially supply its armored divisions and regulate trade.
Shabwa Province has generally been untouched by the fighting, as most of the war has taken place in the northern regions. The province is known for its rich oil fields, which can prove vital in the fight. As the Houthis started their offense in Shabwa Province, the pro-UAE joint forces reinforced the region. Within 24 hours, the Arab coalition reported that it had carried out over 23 targeting operations against the Houthi offensive. The pro-government force and the pro-UAE joint forces have been effective in forcing the rebels back. One group, known as the Amaliqa forces, has been particularly successful, as it has been able to recapture the Al-Naqoub region.
The main prize in Shabwa Province is the port of Balhaf. The port is under the control of the UAE and has a plant that produces liquefied natural gas (LNG), a crucial export. Because much of Yemen’s economy is centered in the Shabwa and Marib regions, these are critical areas to hold. One of the factors leading to the economic woes plaguing Yemen is the departure of many gas companies during the war due to a lack of foreign direct investment (FDI) and revenue. The United Nations stated that the Yemen riyal has reached record lows, and the World Food Programme Yemen is now trying to address one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Currently, both sides are locked into a conflict that has directly influenced politics in the Middle East. If there is to be one, the victor will change the course of geopolitics in the region. The pro-Yemen government, backed by many Gulf states, will help secure Saudi Arabian and Arab influence in the area. However, if the Houthis gain control, Iran will now have a sphere of influence in the region that can cooperate with Hezbollah in Lebanon, creating more discord between Iran and most of the Gulf nations. This new offensive could determine whether or not one of the sides can gain the upper hand in this ongoing conflict.