Yemen: Next War Begun in Middle East

Yemen: Next War Begun in Middle East

With the support of other Arab countries Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes in neighboring Yemen on March 26. The aircraft attacked the positions of Shia formations in Sana, the capital of the country. US President Barack Obama had been warned about the operation before it started. «While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support», a White House statement said. Besides air operations, Saudis have pledged to contribute 150,000 soldiers with heavy weapons to the newly formed coalition including Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said the coalition comprises ten countries. Egypt has already said it is ready to send army, air force and naval units to the area. Another war has begun in the Middle East. 

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is fighting Ansar Allah, the military wing of the Shiite Houthis Movement. The Yemeni military is disorganized. Some units remain loyal to the former President, some switched sides to join the Houthis movement while some of them support the Sunni tribes. Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned in late January after Houthi rebels overran the capital and the country was left in political vacuum. He then resurfaced in Aden, the capital of the formerly independent south Yemen, where he resumed his duties, but his authority is not recognized and the warring groups continue the intestine strife. 

The US administration ordered the pullout of all American forces from Yemen’s Al Anad air base on March 20 after AQAP forces and aligned tribal fighters briefly took control of the nearby city of Houta and suicide bombers attacked two mosques in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, killing at least 140 people, including women and children, and wounding many others. The State Department confirmed that remaining American personnel have been withdrawn from Yemen although it did not specifically mention military personnel. «Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the U.S. government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen», spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. 

The Islamic State purportedly claimed it committed the bombings. Shia formations pushed their advance against the terrorists. Houthi militia members seized the military airport in Taiz on March 22 without any resistance from Yemeni military forces. Taiz is the third largest city located in the heart of Yemen. Houthis sweep southward to approach Lahij and Aden. The talks between the belligerents stopped United Nations-brokered talks to end the country’s political crisis. Jamal Benomar, the United Nations special envoy, warned that the events in Yemen are pushing the country «to the edge of a civil war». According to him, if immediate steps are not taken «the country will slide further into further violence and dislocation». The UN diplomat's strongly worded statement included a warning that the situation was so grave that if no political solution was reached, «Yemen could turn into something of an Iraq-Libya-Syria combination». 

It was not a secret that the country was balancing on the brink of war. Washington took some preparatory measures, including sending two amphibious ships to the Red Sea as far back as January. Back then US State Secretary Kerry said at one congressional hearing that Iran was involved in the overthrow of Yemeni government. Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, wants to hear nothing about the Islamic State’s responsibility for the recent terrorist acts. She said the Houthis had «consistently undermined Yemen's transition». According to her, they have been involved in violence ever since they overtook Sana, seized all the government buildings and tried to rule the country without sharing power with anyone else. It can be construed as suggesting that there is an Iranian trace while the US is unable to counter the Islamic State going beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria. 

The situation in Yemen is a result of the US policy. In 2010 America was behind the regime changes in a number of Middle East states. The US-provoked unrest known as the «Arab Spring» led to the overthrow of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The regimes had been in power for dozens of years. With them ousted, the region plunged into the quagmire of violence. 

The political crisis in Yemen started in 2011 when Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country since 1978, finally signed away his presidency in favor of his Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, a fairly weak figure who lacked a significant support base, either in politics or the military. The ensuing political crisis has been continuing since then. Islamists came to power in all the countries hit by the «Arab Spring». The US interference into the Middle East had nothing to do with the cherished desires of Arab people. Yemen faces political mess; it’s on the brink of disintegration. The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen. The Houthis took hold of many military facilities in the northern part of the country, including in the vicinity of Sana where US military instructors trained Yemeni counter-insurgency units. Some military installations were overtaken by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The US training programs and arms supplies have produced no results, the US-assisted government forces failed in their attempts to quell the rebel’s movements. The same thing happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a 2013 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the primary unclassified counterterrorism program in Yemen lacked oversight and that the Pentagon had been unable to assess whether it was doing any good. Now it’s clear that the US-supplied arms got into the hands of warring groups backed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

The Yemen’s turf wars waged by groups backed by other countries pose a big threat to regional security. It is be naïve to suppose that Iran will be idly watching the Shia group Ansar Allah suffering a defeat and do nothing but make diplomatic statements. The intestine war in Yemen is part of struggle for regional influence. Iran perceives the situation in Yemen as further development of events in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. These countries have large Shia communities. Iran strives to increase its clout there to counterbalance the Sunnis backed by Saudi Arabia.