Yemen Conflict Escalates Beyond Borders
By admin April 1, 2015


Last Thursday, Saudi aircraft struck several Yemeni rebel positions, including an air base, several military bases, and anti-aircraft positions in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, the first strike in an aerial offensive that has continued since. Also involved in the airstrikes were aircraft from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Egypt. This marks the first overt intervention by a foreign power in the Yemeni civil war; Saudi authorities have said that a ground invasion is planned as well, as soon as the rebellion has been sufficiently weakened by air strikes.

The Yemeni civil war is being fought between the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and the insurgent faction known as the Houthis, who belong to the Zaidi Shi’a minority sect (most Yemenis including the President are Sunnis). This civil war has gone on sporadically since 2004 when the Houthi uprising began in the north of the country; however, it accelerated in 2011 when the Arab Spring revolts swept through the Middle East. The Houthis joined in the general protests directed against then President Saleh and participated in the National Dialogue Conference meant to create a new government after Saleh’s resignation; however, they rejected the ultimate outcome of the NDC, and resumed the insurgency. This culminated in January 2015, when Houthi militants took over the presidential palace, declared themselves in control of the country, and created a Revolutionary Committee to take control of the country.

The outside powers’ involvement in what had, up to this point, been a civil war can be explained partly by the high tensions between Iran and its Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and their allies have long accused the Houthi insurgency of being a proxy for Iran, which has in the past supported Shi’a militias in nearby Arab countries like Lebanon and Iraq. It can also be explained by the Arab Spring revolts of the last five years, a general popular backlash against the governments of the Arab world which has already toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and which the Saudis are determined to protect themselves and their closest allies from. By overthrowing a government on the Saudi border, the Houthi rebellion has moved from being a low-level insurgency to a threat that the Saudi government can no longer ignore. A similar event took place in 2011 in Bahrain, where another Sunni government, friendly with Saudi Arabia, was threatened by mostly Shi’a protesters; the Saudi government reacted with military force to support the Bahraini government and put down the uprising.

The United States government has voiced support for the Saudi-led campaign, and said that it is providing it with logistical and intelligence support. The chaos and disorder caused by the civil war has allowed jihadi groups like the AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and the new Islamic State movement based in Iraq and Syria to gain a foothold in Yemen. It has also done serious damage to the country’s economy and trade, with Yemen shutting down its major seaports on Thursday, while Saudi Arabia, which now controls Yemeni airspace, forbidding flights to several of its airports. Both of these things, along with a common concern over Iranian influence, explain why the U.S. and the West share the Saudi-led coalition’s interest in reestablishing law and order under a friendly government as quickly as possible. It remains to be seen whether the Saudi military intervention can accomplish this.

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