Sarah Leah Whitson | Executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch

The war in Yemen drags on, but there are actually some winners. In terms of human costs, the Yemen war is a picture of unmitigated loss: millions of Yemenis facing starvation; over 17,000 killed or wounded; an infrastructure in ruins, with hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, homes, and even universities bombed; indiscriminate aerial attacks and artillery shelling of civilians, exposing commanders of warring parties to criminal liability; and Saudi Arabia’s global reputation—despite an army of public relations firms working feverishly on its behalf—in tatters.

However, the Yemen war has been a huge financial boon for American and British defense contractors (and their shareholders). Raytheon, General Dynamics, and BAE Systems are awash in tens of billions of dollars from arms sales to their rich clients, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They astutely spend a fraction of their profits to lobby their own governments to approve these sales, despite the overwhelming evidence of repeated misuse of these weapons in unlawful attacks that should lead to a ban on such activity. Fear of lost arms sales is today America’s pathetic basis for certifying that the Saudi-led coalition is “working to minimize civilian casualties.”


Ahmad Nagi | Nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, specializing in Yemen

There is only one winner: chaos. Since the beginning of the conflict in September 2014, all local warring parties have been paying a very heavy tribute, both human and material, without a tangible victory. On the contrary, what exists in Yemen today is a terrible man-made crisis, one that has left the country destroyed and millions of people facing famine, disease, and catastrophic economic conditions.

Despite the fact that some parties have made certain military advances on the ground, these short-term victories have not been decisive. In turn, this has led to more turmoil, facilitating internal conflicts among warlords of the different factions. This was the case of the Southern factions in Aden, for instance, following the so-called Aden liberation operation. It was also visible among resistance groups in Ta‘iz, and even in San‘a between the Houthis and the late Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces, which led to Saleh’s execution. As a result the Yemeni conflict has increasingly become a war of all against all.

The Saudi-led coalition on the one hand and Iran on the other have their own regional agendas—neither of which includes bringing stability to Yemen. These actors are investing in war, and if the war stops it would represent a loss for both sides.


Sheila Carapico | Professor of political science and international studies at the University of Richmond, author of Civil Society in Yemen: The Political Economy of Activism in Modern Arabia (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and editor of Arabia Incognita: Dispatches From Yemen and the Gulf (Just World Books, 2016)

Warfare will not produce an outright, decisive military victory. Ansar Allah, better known as the Houthis, can neither defeat powerful air and naval forces nor competently govern Yemen. Notwithstanding U.S., British, or other NATO support, the Saudi-led mission to restore the purportedly “internationally recognized” but deposed and discredited client government-in-exile to genuine authority over all of Yemen is a pipe dream. Moreover, Saudi and Emirati objectives seem increasingly at odds as the United Arab Emirates unilaterally  meddles in the Southern separatist movement.

No one is “winning.”

Profiteers? Sure. American, British, and other international weapons manufacturers are making a killing, so to speak. Smugglers, armed gangs, corrupt officials, and some businesspeople in sparsely-populated eastern and southern Yemen are already benefiting from covert activities or large-scale Saudi and Emirati investments in pipelines and ports, or from both. Gulf (or international) companies might reap handsome financial or strategic profits in Shabwa, Ma’rib, Hadhramawt, Mahra, or the island of Socotra.

Losers? Most of the 28 million Yemenis.


David B. Des Roches | Associate professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies of the National Defense University, Washington, D.C.

It’s pretty easy to pick out the losers in the Yemen war. It’s a lot harder to say who is winning. Of course, Iran has been able to tie down a substantial portion of Saudi and Emirati military capacity at a minimal cost. This must be considered winning, although they may be buying trouble down the line.

There are two more parties who are coming out ahead in Yemen. The first is Qatar, which participated in the coalition (and took casualties) until the crisis with the Gulf Cooperation Council. Qatar had thus proven that it would contribute to the Yemen effort if asked, but now can criticize the military campaign as an outsider. The second winner is the Air Defense Forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Together they have downed over 200 missiles and proven to be the most proficient forces of their kind in the world.