12 February 2021
- US move to end backing for intervention in Yemen will increase pressure on Riyadh to re-evaluate role in conflict
- US pressure over Yemen and human rights concerns will not lead to breakdown in wider strategic relations
- Further Houthi missile and drone attacks will follow Abha attack, but temporary ceasefire is plausible over Ramadan
President Biden announced on 4 February an end to US support for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, including arms sales to the kingdom. However, Biden said Washington would continue to help Riyadh defend against Houthi attacks on its territory. Meanwhile, the US State Department said on 5 February it would revoke the designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist group, reversing the Trump administration’s decision of 19 January. Five days later, the Houthis claimed responsibility for a drone attack on Abha airport that damaged a civilian aircraft but resulted in no injuries. Separately, Saudi Arabia released two activists with US citizenship from prison on 5 February, while women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released on 10 February following three years in jail.
Former President Trump developed close relationships with Gulf leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), as part of a wider US strategy of building regional support for its “maximum pressure” approach towards Iran. As a result, Trump was willing to repeatedly veto congressional attempts to curb US support for Saudi operations in Yemen. Washington’s freezing of arms sales and reversal of the Houthis’ terror designation highlight, however…