Saudi Arabia and Iran wage proxy war in Yemen

Sana'a Old City, UNESCO World Heritage site in YEMEN. (Photo credit: Flickr user Eesti / licensed under Creative Commons)

The situation in the Arabian peninsular country of Yemen deteriorated rapidly over the course of the week. Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled the country on Wednesday to the Saudi capital – Riyadh. Later that night, the Saudi air force began bombing raids which have effectively shut down Yemen’s two main airports. The U.S. – which withdrew troops and drones from Yemen as the security situation spiraled  – has agreed to provide logistical and intelligence support. After the first night of bombing, Amnesty International said that dozens of civilians were among the dead – including six children under the age of ten — and called for all “feasible precautions to spare civilians.” FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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Saudi Arabia has a history of intervention in Yemen, a country with which it shares a border. This time it has teamed up with the other autocratic Gulf monarchies of Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait to quote “protect Yemen and its dear people from Al Houthi militias’ aggression.”

The Saudi monarchy accuses Iran of backing the Houthi rebels, who also have the support of interests loyal to the former regime of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“It’s just a ground for a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” according to Yemeni political and human rights activist Baraa Shiban. “And instead of having that fight in the lands of either Iran or the Saudis, the battlefield is Yemen now. And actually there are many people questioning the benefits of supporting either side because simply they feel that they are fighting a fight that doesn’t belong to us and then results of it will either work for the benefit of the Iranians or the Saudis. Yemen will lose either way.”

U.S. Senator John McCain told FSRN Thursday that he supports the Saudi-led military action.

“I think they are doing the right thing to try to stop the Houthis who are clearly stooges and clients of the Iranians, and it also is a stunning example of the lack of confidence they have in America,” said Senator McCain. “They have decided because of this president’s failed policy to go it alone – for the first time in history.”

Yemen is the only country on the Arabian Peninsula not ruled by a monarch.  Attempts to transition the country to a true democracy gained momentum in 2011, but stalled due to internal conflict and interference by external powers. The U.S. was reluctant to support the pro-democracy movement due to concerns about how regime change would affect its counter-terror program targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP.

“Basically, the United States’ interest inside Yemen was primarily or solely on stopping the spread of AQAP,” says  Shiban. “And it based its strategy for many years based on this possible threat, neglecting the fact that Yemen is much bigger than a few hundred militias moving around the country. It’s a nation of 25 million, which I think it’s time for the international community to realize, that it’s time to address their demands and needs instead of involving the country into a bigger proxy war that I don’t think will end anytime soon.”

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