Yemen civil war draws in neighbours
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on April 06, 2015
Guest opinion by Henry Srebrnik: It seems that after years, indeed decades, of vacillation, Saudi Arabia has finally decided to challenge its rival, Iran, if only via a proxy fight in Yemen.
The rebel Houthi Zaidis belong to a Shia school of Islam and are supported by the regime in Tehran.
Living in the northern highlands of the country, they make up about 35-40 per cent of its Muslim population.
The Houthis began their offensive in September, seizing the capital, Sana’a. Now Saudi Arabia, the very centre of Sunni Islam, which borders Yemen to the north, has launched airstrikes against them.
The Arab League has called for the establishment of a voluntary, unified military force for a potential ground assault, while Iran has called the escalation a “dangerous step.”
Many are worried about an Iranian takeover of the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea on the African side. It connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, so ships could easily come under fire. Egyptian and Saudi warships are now patrolling the strait.
Yemen has seen other civil wars in its past that led to foreign intervention. Until 1990, Yemen referred only to the northern part of the country. It became independent in 1918, under the Zaydi House of Al-Mutawakkilite.
In 1962 Imam Muhammad Al-Badr was deposed by a group of Egyptian supported and financed Sunni officers and a republic was proclaimed. A lengthy civil war between Yemeni republican forces, based in the cities and supported by Egypt, and the royalist supporters of the deposed imam, backed by Jordan and Saudi Arabia, ensued.
Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser supported the republicans with as many as 70,000 Egyptian troops. According to official Egyptian army figures, they had 15,194 killed, and Nasser pulled out of the conflict after his loss to Israel in the 1967 war.
The civil war officially ended with a political agreement between the republican and royalist factions brokered in 1970. A republican government was formed in Yemen, incorporating members from the royalist faction.
Meanwhile, the old British colony of Aden in the south became a separate state called South Yemen in 1967. The two countries united in 1990, but many there were unhappy with the amalgamation, and a brief civil war followed in 1994. Today, a southern separatist movement, Heraq, has seized control of some territory.
Yemen’s President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi has fled the country. Washington has shut its embassy in Sana’a and evacuated 125 Special Operations advisors. Houthi forces seized Al Anad air base, which until recently had been used by the Americans.
The chaos in Yemen has made a mockery of Barack Obama’s statement last Sept. 10 that Yemen was an important U.S. ally and partner in American counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Now, there are even reports of an Islamic State branch operating out of Yemen.
Like many other states in the region, the Saudis realize that they can no longer depend on a war-weary America to counter Iranian aggression.
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.
Received on Mon Apr 06 2015 - 10:16:02 EDT