Pending US Congress resolution may impact proxy war in Yemen

YemenBy: Kaitlin Presnell, Analyst, Middle East Section
Analytical Question: Who is winning the proxy war in Yemen?

A War Powers Resolution limiting the United States’ aid in Saudi Arabia, a major contender in the Yemeni proxy war, has reportedly passed through the United States House of Representatives and is currently making its way through the Senate. If this resolution were to pass, it would indicate a possible deceleration for the proxy war in Yemen due to the degree of involvement that Saudi Arabia has in the war, with American assistance.

Last week, a resolution to pull military assistance from Saudi Arabia passed through the House with a 248-to-177 vote. This was the War Powers Resolution, designed to give Congress the ability to restrict the President’s military assistance given abroad when there is an absence of a formal declaration of war. This rarely used resolution has the same legal effect as a bill that has passed and become a law5. This act is now moving to the Senate and will be voted upon soon. If this act passes through the Senate, as many are predicting will happen, there is a chance that President Donald Trump will issue his first veto in opposition.

This resolution was drafted as a direct response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the lack of response from Trump’s administration. Jamal Khashoggi was a journalist with Saudi Arabian citizenship who was murdered in Turkey in September 2018. Khashoggi was living in exile in the United States and regularly wrote critical pieces on the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi was visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on September 28 in order to obtain divorce documents so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée. Khashoggi never reemerged from the consulate and was reportedly murdered by Saudi intelligence officers. This conclusion was reportedly further endorsed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after its analysts concluded that bin Salman authorized Khashoggi’s murder. Trump’s response was to stand with the Saudis and to assert that Iran had committed greater crimes than Saudi Arabia.

Through this resolution, Congress is not only publicizing its denouncement of the murder of Khashoggi, but also the conflict in Yemen. The removal of aid could potentially affect the proxy war in Yemen, a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. From 2016 to 2018, Saudi Arabia provided the Yemeni government with $18 billion in aid, and in 2017 the United States provided Saudi Arabia with $11 million in foreign assistance. Iran has provided the Houthi rebels with about $10-25 million in aid annually since 2010. If the US were to withdraw its aid from Saudi Arabia, it would limit the amount that the Saudis could provide to the Yemeni allies in their war against the Houthi rebels, a Shiite rebel group that has been fighting against the current government in Yemen. Military forces have been able to push back the Houthi rebels’ territorial control in Yemen through the support of Saudi Arabian airstrikes and military aid. Without this retaliation on the Houthis, and through the aid they are receiving from Iran, the Houthis would have the ability to regain control of strategic regions in Yemen that would support a potential victory. This may put the Houthi rebels in a position to establish their own government in Yemen and edge closer to independence from the current administration. Because Iran is providing support to the Houthis, Iran could potentially gain enough momentum to become the winner of the proxy war in Yemen.

There seems to be potential for the resolution to pass through the Senate in the coming weeks, due to a similar resolution passing late last year. It can be assessed with moderate confidence that the removal of United States’ aid in Saudi Arabia could potentially cause a deceleration of the Yemeni proxy war. With the US providing no support, the Saudis would be highly inclined to negotiate an end to the conflict in order to stop the power that Iran gains from their spread of support within the war. However, this would be dependent on the resolution passing completely through Congress and bypassing a potential veto by President Trump. Before these events happen, it cannot be accurately stated whether the proxy war could come to a deceleration or even a possible end.