Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, was quoted in mid-June saying that the war was “practically over” and that the UAE would now focus on counter terrorist operations and restoring the economy. It was given greater credence when Shaikh Muhamad bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi deputy crown prince, tweeted the remark. Reacting to the inevitable furore, Gargash, who is close to UAE leaders, claimed he had been taken out of context and reminded the world that the UAE was committed to restoring President Hadi’s government and containing Iranian influence. This has not stopped speculation about possible differences between the Saudi and UAE leaders over the conduct of the war. The UAE, which has focused on the south, has won plaudits in Yemen and abroad for its military campaign and the success of its recent moves against AQAP in Mukalla. The Saudis have clearly struggled in the much more difficult and populous north. We believe that any differences between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are relatively minor and that the relationship between Muhammad bin Zayed and Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the main Saudi architect of the war, remains strong and they work closely on Yemen.
What Gargash has exposed is the growing impatience in the GCC over the commitment of Yemen leaders to negotiations. A realisation that the fighting is unlikely to result in a clear victory has induced war weariness. Riyadh would like to devote more attention to Syria and to the huge task of implementing the recently announced plan to transform the Saudi economy.
Western governments also want the war to end as has been shown by the criticism in parliament and the media of the UK government’s support for the coalition. UN and western officials have been going into contortions over Saudi reaction to a move by the UN to add the Saudi-led coalition to a blacklist of armed groups who violate the rights of children in its annual report on children and armed conflict. It asserted that the coalition is responsible for 60 percent of child casualties in the current conflict in Yemen. Riyadh took strong exception to this and mobilised its international friends by putting pressure on the UN to remove its name. A clearly reluctant Ban Ki-Moon agreed to do so but made sure they knew that he was acting under an intolerable level of pressure. The problem was compounded when the Saudis demanded to know the sources of the UN’s information. This may have been raised when Prince Muhammad bin Salman met Ban Ki-Moon and President Obama in mid-June.