Yemen: a dangerous escalation

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Yemen’s Houthi rebels have swept across the country, reaching as far as the strategically vital port of Aden, driving out the president and laying siege to a US base. The Houthis are Shia tribes from the mountainous north. They have been able to fill the power vacuum following the stalling of the Yemeni Revolution, one of the most popular and well supported uprisings of the Arab Spring.

The movement rose out of long-standing grievances by the Shia Muslims, who were at one point backed by the Saudis in war against the Yemeni regime that was allied to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt. Yemen itself is also divided between the north and the south, which wants to secede from the country.

The skies of Syria, Iraq and Yemen are full of Iranian, Arab and Western warplanes in a perplexing jigsaw of alliances. In Iraq, US and French warplanes have intervened to turn the battle against the Islamic State (IS) in Tikrit, following the stalling of an offensive led by the mainly anti-Western Shia Muslim sectarian militias supported by Iranian ground troops.

In Syria, Western and Syrian air forces share the skies in relentless bombing campaigns against the IS, the main Western target, and Syrian rebels, the main regime target. This in the air cooperation comes despite deep hostility between the West and the Syrian regime.

In Yemen the Houthi rebels, supported by former dictator Ali Saleh and backed by Iran, are threatening US and Western interests, as well as getting drawn into a war with Sunni Muslim Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that the US are ostensibly in the country to destroy.

This dangerous intervention will mean Saudi and Western forces battling Shia Muslims as well as their Sunni Muslim enemies. This tangle of strategies and interests can only drive the country further toward disaster. The massing of Saudi troops along Yemen’s northern border is also in danger of sparking a wider conflict between Iran and Gulf Arab kingdoms.