Mounting fighting between Yemen’s two main opposition forces, the Shi’ite Houthis and the General People’s Congress (GPC) of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, appears to have led to a major split, with Saleh now seeking talks with the Saudis.
The Saudis have expressed support for the talks, and its unsurprising, as the Saudis had sought to court Saleh in the first place back in 2015 when they invaded Yemen. That they bombed his home almost immediately when he didn’t endorse the invasion is likely to remain a sore spot, however.
The Saleh-Houthi alliance never made much sense, except that Saleh was mad the Saudis bombed his house, as during his long time in office Saleh carried out an extremely bloody war against the Houthi movement.
Over the course of 2017, there’s been some intermittent fighting between Houthis and the GPC. Talks quickly resolved things in the past, but fighting over the last few days has killed dozens, and both sides seem to be split in a more permanent fashion. The Saudis are escalating strikes against the Houthis now too, giving the impression that it’s about the split with Saleh.
The Houthis are now accusing Saleh of a “coup” against them because of the split, though it’s not clear the talks are really the problem, since the Houthis had also made some efforts to get peace talks going.
Where this ultimately leads is anyone’s guess, but the concern among the Houthis is likely that Saleh is going to sideline them completely in the “peace talks,” and come to an agreement in which his side joins the anti-Houthi movement.
While Saleh commands a lot of loyalty in the old Yemeni military it’s not clear he could turn the war decisively away from the Houthis. It is, however, highly possible that Saleh might quickly replace Gen. Hadi as the “Yemeni president” that the Saudi coalition is trying to prop up, because Hadi has been under effective house arrest in Saudi Arabia since February, and has fallen out of favor with some coalition members.