January 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 January 2024
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Expected Council Action

In January 2024, the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing on Yemen in closed consultations. 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 are expected to 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 war in Yemen. At the same time, Houthi attacks against Israel and maritime shipping in the Red Sea since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas on 7 October 2023 risk undermining these peace efforts.

On 14 November 2023, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi announced that the group would expand its attacks on Israel—which to that point involved missile and drone launches targeting Israel—to target Israeli ships in the Red Sea. On 19 November, the Houthis seized a Bahamas-flagged cargo ship called the Galaxy Leader, associated with an Israeli businessman, and took its 25 crew members hostage. Announcing the seizure, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sare’e said that all ships linked to or owned by Israelis would be targeted until Israel ended its campaign against Hamas. The intervention of a US Navy warship thwarted the attempted seizure in the Gulf of Aden of another commercial vessel linked to an Israeli company on 26 November. Security Council members issued a press statement on 1 December that demanded that all such attacks and actions cease immediately and called for the immediate release of the vessel MV Galaxy Leader and its crew.

But the maritime attacks have continued, and as a result, according to reports, the arrival of commercial ships at the port of Eilat in southern Israel had almost completely stopped by mid-December 2023. On 3 December, three commercial vessels came under attack in the southern Red Sea, according to the US military, as the Houthis claimed drone and missile attacks on two Israeli vessels in the area. The US said that the three vessels involved were the Unity Explorer, a Bahamas-flagged and UK-owned cargo ship; the Number 9, a Panamanian-flagged, Bermuda- and UK-owned and operated bulk carrier; and the Sophie II, a Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier. A US destroyer shot down three drones as it helped the vessels, two of which were struck by missiles and one of which was hit by a drone.

On 9 December 2023, the Houthis said that they would target all ships heading to Israel and warned all international shipping companies to avoid Israeli ports. “If Gaza does not receive the food and medicine it needs, all ships in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, regardless of their nationality, will become a target for our armed forces,” Sare’e said in a statement.

An anti-ship cruise missile hit the Norwegian-flagged Strinda on 11 December 2023, causing a fire on the ship but no casualties. France’s Armies Ministry said its frigate Languedoc shot down a drone during the attack, which occurred near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the narrow channel between Yemen and northeast Africa that links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. The French frigate “then positioned itself to protect the affected vessel, preventing an attempt to hijack the ship,” the French military said. The vessel’s Norwegian owner said that the Strinda was coming from Malaysia and was bound for the Suez Canal and then Italy with a cargo of palm oil. Sare’e alleged that the ship was bound for Israel. On 13 December, Houthi forces tried to board a commercial tanker near the Bab el-Mandeb strait. After the attempted boarding failed, they fired missiles at the vessel, according to the US military. This tanker was loaded with jet fuel heading to either Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Gävle, Sweden, according to its owner, Ardmore Shipping. An American warship shot down a suspected Houthi drone during the incident.

On 15 December 2023, the major shipping firm, Maersk instructed its container vessels to pause Red Sea voyages, one day after a near-miss attack against the vessel Maersk Gibraltar. Other shipping companies announced similar decisions over the following days. Attacks continued, meanwhile. The same day as Maersk’s announcement, the Houthis claimed attacks against two more vessels, the MSC Alanya and MSC Palatium III.

Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam said on 16 December 2023 that ending Houthi naval operations was contingent on Israel ending its siege of Gaza and allowing the entry of food and medicine. “[A]ny genuine steps responding to the humanitarian situation in Palestine and Gaza through bringing in food and medicine would contribute to reducing the escalation”, he reportedly claimed. On 18 December 2023, the US announced the establishment of an upgraded multinational task force, called Operation Prosperity Guardian, that would start operating in the Red Sea to deter and counter the Houthi attacks. Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Seychelles, Spain, the UK, and the US will participate in the initiative, which will operate under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces, a multinational alliance tasked with defending the world’s shipping lanes.

On 13 December 2023, Security Council members held their monthly meeting on Yemen in closed consultations, receiving briefings from Grundberg, Beary, and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths. Grundberg had held talks over the previous two weeks with Saudi, Yemeni, and Omani government officials, as well as with Houthi chief negotiator Abdulsalam, during multiple visits to Riyadh and Muscat from 29 November to 7 December. Grundberg expressed cautious optimism about the Houthi-Saudi talks, which he apparently reported are continuing to make progress. The envoy said, however, that regional developments are complicating the process. Members met under “any other business” in closed consultations on 18 December to discuss the threat that Houthi Red Sea attacks posed to maritime security. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and Americas in the United Nations Department of Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča briefed.

The World Food Programme (WFP) announced on 5 December 2023 that it was pausing its operations in northern Yemen. The WFP said that it took the decision because of limited funding and following more than a year of inconclusive negotiations with the Houthis over how to direct food aid to the neediest recipients.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 14 November 2023, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement “demanding [the] immediate release of staff detained” in Yemen. The statement noted that there had been no information about the status of staff members from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and OHCHR who had been arbitrarily detained in 2021 and 2023. It called this a “profoundly alarming situation”, which demonstrates utter disregard for the rule of law. The statement concluded with the Director-General of UNESCO, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Executive Coordinator of the UN Volunteers reiterating their demand for the “immediate release” of UN staff members and others being illegally detained by the de facto Houthi authorities.

Key Issues and Options

A new key concern for the Council is the threat that Houthi attacks present to international shipping and maritime security.

How the Council can support ongoing peace talks and a future inter-Yemeni political process under UN auspices remains a key issue. The risk that Houthi attacks on Israel and Red Sea shipping could undermine or stall Yemen peace talks is a related key issue. Other important issues linked to the political process are the fragile relations between the factions that form the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) and how a political process should address some PLC members’ calls for a separate southern Yemeni state.

In the event of a deal between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, Council members could issue a press statement to welcome or endorse any agreement. Such a statement could further reiterate members’ support for Grundberg to lead an inter-Yemeni political process for a comprehensive peace agreement, including for the UN Envoy to conclude his work on a roadmap to guide this process.

The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains a key issue. During 2023, Yemen relief efforts faced a major funding shortage, which forced humanitarian agencies to scale back programmes. As at 15 December 2023, the 2023 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan had received 38 percent of its required funding for the year ($1.649 billion of $4.344 billion). In 2024, amid other global crises, it is anticipated that relief efforts in Yemen will face similar financing challenges. Addressing Yemen’s economic conditions is a related key issue to mitigate the country’s humanitarian needs.

Council and Wider 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.

Members have condemned the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and are concerned about their consequences on maritime security and freedom of navigation. The US was a strong proponent for establishing Operation Prosperity Guardian, and together with Albania, France, Japan, Malta, and the UK, requested the 18 December consultations on the attacks. US officials have said that they have not ruled out possible military action against the Houthis. Israel has reportedly refrained from intervening militarily to see what effect the multinational maritime task force will have once it starts operating in the Red Sea.

The UK Is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Hwang Joon-kook (South Korea) is expected to serve as the new chair of the 2140 Sanctions Committee. The United Arab Emirates, which has been a key member of the Saudi-led coalition, concluded its two-year Council term on 31 December 2023, and Algeria replaces it as the elected Arab Council member for 2024-2025.

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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.
Security Council Press Statement
1 December 2023SC/15513 This press statement condemned in the strongest terms recent Houthi attacks against a commercial vessel in the Red Sea, and called for the immediate release of the vessel MV Galaxy Leader and its crew, which the Houthis seized on 19 November.

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