There will be no "liberation" of Sana'a, or any governorate in the north of Yemen for that matter. Instead, what remains of Yemen's fragile state structure will be destroyed. Yemen will be a much worse version of Iraq post 2003. And we will look back at this 10 years from now and wonder how come we never learned from our mistakes. This will be the case unless Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies end the military gamble and engage in direct negotiations with the Houthis, who have lately presented serious concessions. The international community need to exerts pressure for this to happen, before it is too late.
The war in Yemen began a new phase when the coalition forces started installing troops in north Yemen for the first time in an attempt to red the north and eventually the capital Sana'a of the Houthis. The coalition would not even dream of getting an inch closer towards Sana'a without the support of tribes in the north. Except that getting this genie out of the bottle is a recipe for total state collapse to say the least. We are talking about a country that has the highest number of arms per capita in the world. A tribal north that for centuries refused the dominance of the state itself let alone foreign troops on the ground. Uncontrolled armed confrontations between different militias and tribes will eat the remainder of state foundations especially as they reach the capital Sana'a.
If there is any solution for the crisis in Yemen then it is a political one. Those who know the geography of Yemen and the composition of its society have been screaming this since day one of the war, yet the Saudi-led coalition choses to shut its ears. Different political components have to coexist with each other in an inclusive transition system in order to guarantee the survival for the Republic of Yemen, as we know it today. This system will have to include the Houthis and GPC forces (Saleh's former ruling party), along with all major political components in the country. If there was one major mistake in the GCC agreement that constituted the basis for the transition process since 2011, it is that it was not inclusive enough. The agreement marginalized the Houthis along with other forces, and empowered the Muslim Brothers at their expense, eventually leading to the escalation that took place. If the war continues and the coalition forces keep pushing towards the north, they only succeed in deepening the divisions and pushing Yemen further away from an inclusive system.
The Houthis and Saleh GPC have a wide popular base in the north, they also have a strong network of alliances with many tribes. The coalition continued ground involvement means huge losses, and the more losses, the harder the Gulf position will become. The first setback for the coalition troops occurred before the battles even started when a rocket missile attacked a military camp in Mareb, killing at least 60 soldiers, most of whom were Emarati. The north is difficult. It is nothing like the south where the coalition managed to strike alliances with the southern Hirak and local resistance forces and where the Houthis and Saleh had no popular base.
A political solution is possible, and it is viable at this moment of the conflict more than ever. The Houthis and GPC negotiators have recently agreed to implement the UNSC resolution 2216 in the latest talks with the UN envoy in Muscat. This includes their agreement to withdraw from cities and hand in their weapons to the state through a negotiated mechanism. Saudi Arabia and its allies need to engage positively with the concessions presented and use it as an exit out of this war. The timing is key here. Further involvement in the north only hardens the position of both sides and pushes Yemen further away from a peace agreement.
It is in the coalition countries interest to stop the war before it becomes a lost battle, especially as they try to flex their muscles in front of Iran. The more losses that the coalition forces face the north, the more embarrassing it is for them to exit the war with no gains made. It is also the international community's moral duty to pressure the gulf allies to end this gamble that will bring a country of 26 million to total collapse.