Guest Article by Benjamin Sanders
With all the focus in recent years on the conflict in Syria, most people are completely unaware of the similar conflict that is raging in Yemen. The same Sunni/Shia rivalry which creates such dangerous fault lines across the Middle East is ripping this country apart.
The Houthis, backed by Shia Iran, took control of much of the west of the country in 2014, including the capital city Sanaa. Their successful offensive took the international community by surprise, and the Houthis’ gains have remained mostly intact ever since.
Saudi Arabia, a Sunni power, allied with Yemen’s Hadi government and other foreign forces, launched a counter offensive in response. This coalition’s efforts have largely failed due to internal disputes and strategic mistakes.
The other major player in the conflict is AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular) a formidable force which has carved a territory for itself in the centre of Yemen. It thrives on chaos and also controls several ports, which exacerbates the already dire famine gripping the country.
There has also been a cholera outbreak in urban areas of Yemen, which has been largely caused by the repeated targeting of infrastructure by all sides in the war. The Arabian peninsular isn’t exactly in large supply of ground water at any given time, so the slightest disruption to the supply can have grave consequences.
Recently there has been a split within the Saudi-led coalition in which a new force, the Southern Transitional Council, has emerged. The STC is connected to a historic separatist movement in Yemen, and recently captured the strategic port of Aden. It is reported that they are being directly funded by the United Arab Emirates, who make up a large part of the Saudi coalition’s ground troops.
The reason this conflict receives such little media attention is because of the rather embarrassing fact that America and Britain supply large quantities of arms to Saudi Arabia. These arms sales, which consist of fighter jets, armoured vehicles and weapons, have been used to deadly affect for years. The Saudis’ rather lax morale compass had led to these weapons being used against civilian targets, most notably funeral processions.
At the moment, Saudi Arabia’s coalition is currently trying to besiege and capture the strategic coastal city of Al-Hudaydah, which lies on the Red Sea coast. This port settlement is where Iran docks most of its ships full of weapons, and it is also where aid agencies and merchant ships unload most of the food that feeds the population controlled by the Houthis.
In response, the Houthis have been launching ballistic missiles towards the Saudi capital Riyadh with little affect. They have also launched cross border raids into the Saudi Arabian provinces of Jizan and Najran, something which ties down a lot of Saudi troops in tit-for-tat skirmishes.
An Iran dominated Yemen is something the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia cannot tolerate from a strategic perspective, which is why they plough so much effort into defeating the Houthis. Even though they expected a quick victory, the war quickly developed into a stalemate, one that does not look like ending anytime soon.
This war provides yet another example, if any was needed, that intervention in the Middle East should be avoided as much as possible.