Saudi Arabian Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition that has been attacking Yemen since March of 2015, today warned that if the ongoing peace talks in Kuwait fail, Saudi troops would respond with a military occupation of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.
The timing of the threat is curious, as after the talks were paused last week, they made their first major progress only yesterday, with a massive prisoner exchange agreed to that officials say could free thousands of people on both sides.
Though this is still far from resolving the war, the prisoner release is a big step forward, and among Yemeni officials on both sides, there seems to be a lot more interest in continuing the talks than there had been in previous international efforts for talks.
The Saudi threat is also raising eyebrows because of how many times Gen. Asiri and others have predicted a quick military victory and overrunning of Shi’ite-held cities. After 15 months of such predictions, only a fraction of southern Yemen has actually been taken.
Given that, the threat to immediately take Sanaa just seems like bluster, because if the Saudi military could really take Sanaa in short order they surely would’ve done so by now. The city is heavily defended by the Shi’ite Houthis, and apart from being targeted by airstrikes hasn’t been seriously threatened during the war.
Asiri insists the Saudis won’t allow the Houthis to “threaten our border,” though the limited cross-border shelling only began after the Saudis launched the war in the first place, and the Houthis have repeatedly suggested they were open to resolving the conflict with a negotiated settlement.