Stephen Russo, Guest Contributor
22 November 2017
It is likely that Saudi Arabia will use the war in Yemen to continue to challenge Iran, as the two Islamic countries battle for regional hegemony in spite of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which continues to go unnoticed by the Western World, at large. By accusing Iran of funding the Houthi rebels, a Shi’a sect, Saudi Arabia continues to blame Iran for the upheaval and unrest in the Middle East. In addition, by taking charge of the government in Yemen, by cracking down on corruption and holding the President under house arrest, Saudi Arabia is attempting to place the Gulf under its complete control.
The ballistic missile launched from Yemen by Houthi fighters is said to have been manufactured by Iran, which was corroborated by a senior U.S. Air Force official. The U.S. official said, “What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that’s been demonstrated.” In response to this discovery, the Saudi government has declared the act “an act of aggression” and have further accused Iran of arming the rebels. In addition to the missile in early November, one missile fired into Saudi Arabia back in July has been declared Iranian. The Iranians and Houthis have rejected the accusations. However, in support of the allegations, Mehdi Taeb, an influential hard-line cleric who is a brother to the intelligence chief of the Revolutionary Guard, said in April that Iran has previously tried to send missiles to Yemen. This idea, Taeb says, was rejected by the government because of the nuclear deal with the U.S.
In addition, the Saudi-UAE coalition hinted at a possible retaliation against Iran but gave no indication as to when and where, saying, “The coalition command also affirms that the kingdom reserves its right to respond to Iran in the appropriate time and manner.” This year does not mark the first time the Houthi rebels have fired missiles into Saudi Arabia, as the rebels have fired many since the coalition entered the war in 2015.
After the ballistic missile was intercepted over Riyadh on November 4th, Saudi Arabia cut off all air, sea, and land borders with Yemen, which prevented two UN humanitarian aid flights from entering. As a response to criticism, the Saudi government has said the ports will be reopened; however, Saudi Arabia has failed to do so even after saying they will, two and a half weeks after closing them. While the UN has criticized Saudi Arabia for its actions, the Western World, at large, has yet to address the issue with any substance. With 20.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, the world’s largest food security emergency, and a cholera outbreak that is believed to have affected 913,000 people and caused 2,196 deaths, the world is mostly silent, which gives Saudi Arabia more leeway to exert control over Yemen.
Earlier this month, the Saudi’s placed Yemeni President, Abd Rabbuh Hadi, and his sons, under house arrest in Riyadh. The official stance is that the President will be kept in Riyadh until the crackdown on corruption has finished and once it becomes safe enough for President Hadi to return to Yemen, as the president fled to Saudi Arabia back in 2015. Yemeni officials have confirmed that Hadi and his sons are being barred from leaving Saudi Arabia to go back to Yemen, which came after the Saudi Arabia blockade. Additionally, Yemeni officials are saying the action was prompted by enmity between Hadi and the UAE. The UAE has been the partner of Saudi Arabia since 2015, when both countries got involved. Yet there is some indication that Saudi Arabia is looking to get out of the conflict in Yemen, as the UAE has stepped up its involvement. However, there is also indication that the Houthi rebels are gaining ground as those loyal to Hadi are disappearing. There are reports the rebels in the south have formed a “competing political council … with a stated goal of an independent South Yemen…It [the council] includes key officials and members of the legitimate government,” according to the UN report.
Analytic confidence for this analysis was moderate. No specific structured analytic method was used. There was strong agreement between sources with little to no conflict among the sources. Most sources were updated or written within the last two months. The analyst’s expertise in Middle East politics is minimal, and the work was done alone. The task complexity was moderately complex.