Yemen Chaos

Vying to Fill the U.S. Vacuum

Armed Houthis rally against Saudi-air strikes
Armed Houthis rally against Saudi-air strikes.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Yemen has become yet another flashpoint in the struggle for dominance between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Houthi rebels based in the northwest corner of Yemen in January overran the capital of Sana and forced the president to resign.
    • In a hasty withdrawal from Yemen, U.S. Special Forces blew up military equipment for fear it would fall into Houthi rebel hands.
    • Sunni Saudi Arabia contends that Shiite Iran is supporting the Houthis to destabilize Yemen on its southern border.
  • Audio

    Audio

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In a microcosm of the Middle East, Sunni and Shiite worlds are colliding in Yemen with brutal force. Saudi Arabia, in a coalition with other Sunni nations, is leading a military campaign against the Shiite Houthi militia, which is backed financially and militarily by Iran, the region’s leading Shiite power.

The United States supports the Saudi-led effort to oust Houthi rebels and allow the return of the internationally recognized government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

But this is not only about a limited conflict in one nation’s civil war. Attacks by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen – on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula – is a declaration of war to Iran.

The Saudis and their allies want to prevent Islamic State terrorists – which already control parts of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq – from adding another country to their sphere of influence. Also, it does not want the power vacuum in Yemen filled by the Iranians.

Sunni-dominated nations can no longer rely on the United States and are now forced to negotiate for themselves – and now to fight their own wars.

Had Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies accepted the Houthi rebels marching through Yemen without resistance, the ayatollahs in Tehran would have seen it as an invitation to extend their area of influence in the Middle East, with help from their proxy warriors.

Furthermore, regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Jordan fear that Iran’s allies might also dare to attack their legitimacy sooner or later, if no resistance is put up in Yemen.

It has been clear for two years how strongly Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen. In January 2013, Yemeni security forces intercepted a freight ship with Iranian weapons on board, including ground-to-air missiles, intended for the rebels.

Sunni-dominated nations can no longer rely on the United States and are now forced to negotiate for themselves – and now to fight their own wars.

With the departure of U.S. diplomats and special forces from Yemen last week, Washington signaled once more that its “no ground forces” policy is to be taken seriously.

As recently as a few months ago, President Barack Obama praised U.S. engagement in Yemen as an example of successful foreign policy. The U.S. strategy involved fighting terrorists with special forces, along with strengthening the central government in Sana.

But the president did not achieve either goal. Now another U.S. failure in the Middle East has created a dangerous vacuum that two regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, both want to fill.

 

To contact the author: heumann@handelsblatt.com

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