The situation in Yemen is spiraling out of control and is rapidly turning into the center of a Proxy war with ever-growing conflicts of interests – Yemen was upgraded from a local war zone of government and rebels to a regional war with global consequences.
Tehran Meddles in Yemen
Back in 2007, the Yemenite government accused Iran of “meddling in its internal affairs“. By 2012, Iran, through its Qods forces, supported Shiite Houthi rebels with arms shipments, Hezbollah militia and “military advisors”. A power play between Iran and Yemen’s historical patron, Saudi Arabia began to unravel.
Within three years, Yemen’s president fled from his country, finding refuge in Saudi Arabia while Sanna became another satellite of Tehran following Beirut, Damascus (through supporting Assad) and Baghdad (with the US’s blessing for fighting ISIS). The US had already pulled out (a “death blow” for Yemen), the diplomats and the UN would follow – Sanna fell into disarray and panic as Houthi rebels, Hezbollah militia and suicide bombers took control. Meanwhile, economic partnerships were laid out and Iran even offered to provide Yemen with a huger power plant…it all seemed perfect for Tehran.
…except for Saudi Arabia…
The Saudis were fuming at the loss of Yemen and the birth of another Shiite state modeled on the export of Iran’s revolution. They watched as the US backed out of Yemen while pursuing a nuclear deal which seemed to the Saudis shaky at best – in fact, it sent them to chase after their own nuclear program, possibly igniting a regional arms race.
And then, the Saudis, motivated by the fear of Iran’s increasing crescent of power coupled with the threat of Tehran with nukes, bombed the Houthis and suddenly, everyone had to pick sides. What had begun as a few border skirmishes with Houthi rebels as early as December 2009 developed into a massive airstrike which was quickly followed by preparations for a ground offensive: The 100 warplanes and the 150,000 troops that Saudi Arabia was “contributing” to the war could not be ignored.
The Iranians, obviously, cried foul and demanded that the Saudis cease the attacks and accused the embattled government of using “terrorists” to fight the rebels (“terrorism” has become a question of geographical perspective). This didn’t stop the Iranians from unloading 185 tons of weapons on Houthi rebels. Pakistan first took the Saudis side and then switched allegiance to Iran.
Meanwhile, Arab countries, which also fear Iran’s meddling and the accompanying Muslim Brotherhood uprisings, backed Saudi Arabia: Jordan, Morocco and Egypt were the obvious ones. But Sudan, which had once been under Iran’s “support” had to choose sides and chose pragmatism over ideology.
Turkey, already involved in a proxy war over Syrian soil, decided to back Saudi Arabia as well. The Turks, just like the Saudis, fear Iran’s localized meddling, its regional aspirations, its Islamic war-cry and its nuclear potential. Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Iran’s nuclear potential. Now the leader of Turkey visits Teheran, we await the outcome of that.
Even the UK slammed Iran for supporting the Houthi rebels and effectively overthrowing the government.
And the US?
The US was stuck between the proverbial “rock and the hard place“: Support its historical friends or its new negotiating partner?
Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran as well his “appreciation” of Iran’s war with ISIS lead him to favor his friends in Tehran which unleashed attacks from within (the Republican Senate) and from without (Israel, the Gulf States and some countries in the EU such as France and the UK). This did not stop him from creating a framework of a nuclear deal with Iran which is to be finalized in June.
Obama is trying to stay neutral on Yemen, knowing that joining Saudi Arabia would jeopardize his prized nuclear deal. But sooner or later, he will have to choose sides.