December 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2023
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Expected Council Action

In December, the Security Council is expected to hold closed consultations on Yemen. UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, and a representative of OCHA will brief.

Key Recent Developments

Talks continue between the Houthi rebel group and Saudi Arabia and are believed to be nearing a comprehensive agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that has supported Yemen’s internationally recognised government during the more than eight-year war in Yemen. At the same time, regional developments and Houthi attacks against Israel since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, risk undermining Yemen’s peace efforts.

Since 19 October, the Houthis have carried out repeated missile and uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks targeting Israel, which so far have been intercepted by US and Israeli forces or have failed to cause damage. In the group’s first public statement on 31 October confirming responsibility for the spate of attacks, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sare’e said that the missile and drone attacks will continue “until Israel ceases its aggression” in Gaza. Other Houthi missile and drone attacks were reportedly conducted on 1 November, 6 November, and 9 November, and the Houthis shot down a US drone, which the group claimed on 8 October had been “carrying out hostile, monitoring, and spying operations in the Yemeni territorial waters”.

On 14 November, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi vowed in a televised speech to continue attacks on Israel and to target Israeli ships in the Red Sea. The threat was followed by Sare’e announcing that the Houthis had conducted additional ballistic missile and drone attacks. Israel said that same day that it used its Arrow aerial defence system to intercept a missile in the vicinity of the Red Sea after air raid sirens had sounded in the southern Israeli city of Eilat.

On 19 November, the Houthis seized a Bahamas-flagged cargo ship, called the Galaxy Leader, in the Red Sea and took its 25 crew members hostage. The Houthis released a video showing armed men jumping on the ship from a helicopter to capture the vessel. According to NYK, the Japanese company that operates the boat, the ship was carrying no cargo, adding that its crewmembers were from Bulgaria, Mexico, the Philippines, Romania, and Ukraine. Israel denied ownership of the vessel, stressing that it was British-owned and Japanese-operated. Media reports, however, said public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, who is known as one of the richest men in Israel. Announcing the seizure, Sare’e said that all ships linked to or owned by Israelis would be targeted until the end of Israel’s campaign against Hamas.

Grundberg has been keen to avoid conflating the regional developments with peace efforts in Yemen. In a statement on Grundberg’s 15 November visit to Riyadh, the Special Envoy’s office noted that during his meeting with the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen, Mohamed Al Jaber, who has been leading Saudi negotiations with the Houthis, the two “agreed on the importance of maintaining an enabling environment for continued constructive dialogue aimed at reaching an inclusive political settlement in Yemen”. During consultations with Council members on 16 November, Grundberg reported progress in the Houthi-Saudi talks. He also indicated that following a possible agreement, his office would develop a roadmap, which would then guide the inter-Yemeni political process that the UN is expected to facilitate for a comprehensive resolution to the conflict.

On 26 November, armed assailants temporarily seized the commercial vessel, the M/V Central Park, linked to another Israeli company in the Gulf of Aden. A US naval vessel responding to the incident detained the five assailants after they debarked from the ship and tried to escape in a small boat. According to a US statement, “two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen towards the general location” of the ships after the US intervention but did not cause any damage or injuries. A US military spokesperson said later that the detained attackers of the M/V Central Park appeared to be Somali.

On 14 November, the Security Council adopted resolution 2707, renewing the Yemen assets freeze and travel ban sanctions until 15 November 2024 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December 2024.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is how the Council can support ongoing peace talks and efforts to establish a formal ceasefire and an inter-Yemeni political process under UN auspices. Issues under negotiation in the Houthi-Saudi talks include the use of Yemen’s resources and associated revenues to pay the salaries of public employees in Houthi-held territory; the opening of roads and ports in Yemen; and the withdrawal of foreign military personnel from the country. Other key issues related to the political process are the fragile relations between the factions that form the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council and how a political process should address some PLC members’ calls for a separate southern Yemeni state.

An emerging key concern is the risk that the war in Gaza and Houthi attacks against Israel, including the elevated threats to international shipping in the Red Sea, will undermine progress in the Yemen peace talks.

The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains a key issue. This includes a funding shortage for relief efforts, which is forcing humanitarian agencies to scale back programmes. As at 22 November, the 2023 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $4.344 billion, was only 36.2 percent funded. Addressing Yemen’s economic conditions is a related key issue to mitigate the country’s humanitarian needs.

Members may reiterate calls for all parties to facilitate the safe, rapid, and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to all civilians in need and to protect humanitarian personnel and assets in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law. They could also highlight worries about policies that have fuelled socioeconomic challenges and tensions: Houthi drone attacks on oil terminals last year and restrictions on inter-Yemeni trade have caused significant revenue shortages for the government, which have hindered it from providing services.

Council Dynamics

Council members are united in their support for the different mediation efforts. Members have welcomed the potential for the Houthi-Saudi talks to yield meaningful results. At the same time, they stress the ultimate importance of an inclusive Yemeni political process under UN auspices to achieve a sustainable resolution to the conflict. Regarding last month’s Yemen sanctions renewal, Council members agreed to a technical rollover of the sanctions regime to give space for the Houthi-Saudi peace talks and avoid disrupting the process. This was the same approach—agreeing to a technical rollover—Council members took earlier this year when the Council adopted resolution 2675 in February, which extended the Yemen sanctions regime for nine months, and resolution 2691, which renewed the mandate of UNMHA for one year in July.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been a leading member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and takes a keen interest in how the Council addresses the situation in Yemen. (The December briefing will be the last scheduled Council meeting on Yemen before the UAE’s two-year Council term ends.) Russia often objects to language in Council products that it perceives as too critical of the Houthis or not balanced. For Russia, a long-standing red line has been identifying Iran as supplying the Houthis with arms in the Council’s Yemen products. Since 2021, the US has had a Special Envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, who has sought to support UN and regional mediation efforts. He undertook a new round of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf region in November, seeking to emphasise the current opportunity for Yemenis to end the country’s conflict, while warning of the risks that wider regional conflict poses to peace in Yemen, according to a State Department statement.

Japan has a strong concern over the Houthis’ capture of the Galaxy Leader, which is operated by a Japanese company. A statement on 28 November on the situation in Israel and Gaza by the G7, which includes France, Japan, the UK, and the US, called on the Houthis “to immediately cease attacks on civilians and threats to international shipping lanes and commercial vessels and release the M/V Galaxy Leader and its crew”.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania) chairs the 2140 Sanctions Committee.

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Security Council Resolution
14 November 2023S/RES/2707 This resolution renewed the Yemen assets freeze and travel ban sanctions until 15 November 2024 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December 2024.
Sanctions Committee Document
2 November 2023S/2023/833 This was the final report of the Yemen Panel of Experts.
Security Council Meeting Record
14 November 2023S/PV.9473 This was the adoption of resolution 2707 renewing the Yemen sanctions and contained explanations of vote by the UK and Russia.

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