Iran, though sympathetic to the Houthis, provided limited support for the war effort until 2015, when Saudi Arabia, determined to do whatever was necessary to check Tehran’s influence, began the first of more than 15,000 airstrikes, killing thousands of civilians and turning the Yemen fighting into a proxy war. With Yemen dependent on imports for most basic needs, Saudi Arabia tightened the siege further last month by imposing a land, sea and air blockade after a missile allegedly fired by the Houthis came close to Riyadh.
Despite all this, the Saudi-led coalition has failed to defeat the Houthis, who now control the capital, Sana. Meanwhile, the toll on Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is mounting: Some 10,000 people have died, eight million are at risk from famine and nearly one million have contracted cholera.
President Trump, eager for close ties with the new Saudi leadership, has largely turned a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis. The administration has been under mounting pressure from members of the Senate who have threatened to cut aid to Saudi Arabia and who delayed until Dec. 19 the confirmation of Mr. Trump’s pick for State Department legal adviser, Jennifer Newstead. It also is being pushed by international aid and human rights groups to persuade Riyadh to stop the carnage.
There are other pressures as well. Ms. Newstead told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Saudi Arabia could be violating American and international law by restricting the flow of humanitarian aid to Yemen. Human rights advocates have called for imposing United Nations sanctions on Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, and other coalition officials directing the Yemen war.
There are signs the administration is beginning to listen and even exert a constructive influence on the Saudis, who last week said they would open the main port of Hudaydah for 30 days so humanitarian aid can flow. Even so, a long-term solution to the war will take far more than that.
For starters, the Saudis could fully lift the blockade and challenge the Houthis and the Iranians to join in an immediate unconditional cease-fire. This is just the sort of opening Mr. Trump could be urging; if he has the kind of relationship with the Saudis that he boasts about, he might get them to listen — and save countless Yemini lives in the bargain.