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Why isolating the Houthis was a strategic mistake


In diplomatic circles, there is an obsession with how to deal with the Houthis, but the decision to abandon Yemen before the war started has clearly backfired.

Some diplomats at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are asking if Oman, the country which has facilitated the ‘backdoor channel’ between the Houthis in Sana’a and the rest of the world since 2015, has been abusing its leverage by using it to pursue its own interests towards the Saudis and the international community.

This question of leverage over the Houthis comes up in every round of negotiations, most recently as a discussion about pushing back against their diversion of humanitarian aid. But in reality, the current situation is a consequence of a poor diplomatic decision to isolate the Houthis and abandon Sana’a by international diplomats in early 2015.

In the run-up to Saudi Arabia starting military operations in Yemen in 2015, embassies were burning so many documents in their compounds that smoke could be seen across Sana’a for days. The war was still little more than talk in exclusive intelligence circles but the fact everyone was backing out and leaving no trace behind was telling of what was to come.

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