Event Report: Saudi-Iran Rapprochement and its Impact on Yemen

“The Saudi-Iran Rapprochement and its Impact on the Yemeni Conflict”

Tuesday, April 4, 2023


Safa Salah– Post-Doctoral Associate at MIT


Dr. Abdulkader Al-Guneid – Physician, Author, and Special in Yemeni Political Affairs

Mr. Norman Roule – CEO of Pharos Strategic Consulting and Former National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I)

Ibrahim Jalal – Non-Resident Scholar at MEI and Research Fellow at Yemen Policy Center

The webinar discussed the recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and its impact on the Yemeni conflict. The conversation brings together three speakers to discuss the timing and implications of the agreement, why China was prosperous in brokering it, and the effects it may have on the conflict in Yemen. Dr. Abdelkader Al-Guneid, Mr. Norman Roule, and Ibrahim Jalal provide significant insights on this topic, with the conversation moderated by Safa Salah. The webinar concludes with a Q&A session with the audience.

Dr. Abdulkader Al-Guneid discussed the recent meeting between the Saudis and the Iranians in China and its significance in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. He also provided background information on the conflict, including the 2019 attack on Aramco facilities by Iran, the failure of the U.S. to protect the Saudis, and the resulting shock and devastation. He also talked about the failures of the Saudis and the Emirates in uniting the components of Yemen’s legitimacy and establishing a viable and robust establishment. Additionally, he mentioned the internal and external players involved in the conflict and the possible solutions to end the war in Yemen.

Dr. Abdulkader Al-Guneid discussed the recent events in Yemen and the meeting between the Saudis and Iranians in China. He believes the only reason for the meeting was to hurt the U.S. and their friends. However, he acknowledged that the internal and external players in Yemen must be identified and that the events leading up to the meeting must be discussed to understand why they met in China.

Dr. Al-Guneid also talked about the significance of Iran’s September 14, 2019, attack on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabic, which he considers changed the equations in the Middle East. He criticized the failure of the U.S. to protect the Saudis and how the resulting shock and devastation affected the Saudis. He noted that this attack caused the Saudis to consider withdrawing from Yemen.

Dr. Al-Guneid also examined the failures of Saudi and the Emirates in uniting the components of Yemen’s legitimate government and creating a viable or strong establishment. He emphasized the importance of finding solutions to these problems.

Mr. Norman Roule discussed the Iran and Yemen issue and the recent Saudi Iranian agreement. He highlighted that the recent agreement does not mean Iran has lost interest in Yemen, and there are indicators to monitor to see how Iran manages its involvement in Yemen. Yemen’s geopolitical presence against international trade and oil routes is essential. Therefore, Iran controlling the Bab El-Mandab and the Strait of Hormuz gives them a chokehold on the global economy. Mr. Roule mentioned that Iran might moderate its support in the short term, but that would need to be measured in the coming months. The Iranian presence in Yemen must be highlighted publicly and not buried, and information about Iran’s political involvement in Yemen needs to be placed in the public sphere. It is critical to keep all this data on the front page of newspapers and social media so that the public can judge whether Iran allows Yemenis to determine their future.

Mr. Roule also discussed other Yemen-related issues, such as the Safer issue, where the U.N. reportedly refits a ship to take the oil off the Tanker. More people should call for pressure on international governments to support with financial resources for removing that oil. He mentioned that Saudi Arabia would not tolerate a Houthi-Iranian presence in Yemen that threatens Saudi security and that Iran’s diplomatic relations may accelerate the establishment of embassies in Yemen in the short term.

Ibrahim Jalal discussed the recent talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have taken place in the context of a diminished U.S. role in the region. He noted that it took four years for the “fruit to ripen,” referring to the security vulnerability acknowledged in Saudi Arabia due to the break and hoist attacks. He also highlighted the domestic landscape in Yemen and how it is divorced from the discussions. He noted that the discussions included issues that were never part of Saudi concerns in the past, such as salary payments, and the Yemen file within the Saudi Iranian framework has become a priority. Jalal added that the U.N. hopes for the talks to lead somewhere, particularly within the context of an expanded truce with the economic file at the forefront to address the issue of salaries. Jalal also mentioned that Saudi Arabia and Iran publicly support an expanded truce or a cease-fire in Yemen, followed by intra-Yemeni peace talks and an inclusive national government. While this formula might offer Saudi Arabia a way out of the military phase of the conflict, it would also enable Iran to maintain its position in Yemen and offer the Houthis numerous opportunities. Jalal emphasized that peacebuilding efforts must address the conflict’s domestic roots, represent the Yemeni people’s forward-looking aspirations, and have regional and international backing.

The Q&A session focused on the prospect of peace in Yemen in light of the recent agreement. Each speaker was asked if the agreement meant peace for Yemen and if it was a step towards peace. Dr. Al-Guneid said peace would not happen just because of the agreement, as Yemen’s problems have yet to be dealt with internally. Mr. Roule stated that it depends on how the agreement was conducted and how Iran portrays it to the Houthi interlocutors. He believes that in the short term, the agreement offers an opportunity for Iran to step out of some degree of its support to allow the Yemeni people to address their internal issues themselves. Mr. Jalal concluded that the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to lead to sustainable peace in Yemen and that internal problems need to be addressed by Yemeni actors and the international community.


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