How does yemen’s chaos transcend borders?
Yemen’s downward spiral into civil war is a disaster for the Arab world’s poorest country and has added a member to the growing number of middle eastern countries in the past few years.
But how important is yemen to the wider world?
One argument is that yemen has always been an isolated backwater. For yemenis, the chaos is tragic, but it is mainly internal strife between rival groups and will limit peripheral spillovers.
Yemen is also a battleground between the United States and al qaeda, Saudi Arabia and Iran. All of these players have rewritten the rules of the game in yemen and the collapse of the yemeni government and the rise of houthi rebels.
Yemen’s President abid rabbo mansour hadi fled the coastal city of Aden Wednesday as the houthi rebels advanced. He appeared in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, according to Saudi television.
Here are a few key questions and how they will work:
Strike against the United States: the United States and hadi have worked closely together for years on counterterrorism operations. Just a few months ago, President Obama described yemen as a success story. But America now has no partners.
With the collapse of government forces, the United States closed its embassy, withdrew its special operations forces, and abandoned drone bases that used drones to spy on al qaeda in the Arabian peninsula or AQAP. The pentagon may continue to fight in yemen’s skies, but yemen depends on its security forces for intelligence and will now face more serious challenges.
AQAP is considered the most dangerous of al qaeda’s privileges, and the pressure on the group may ease. The houthi rebels are also the enemies of al-qaeda, but the houthi lack the high-tech capabilities that the us and yemen’s military can provide.
Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the standard-bearer of sunni Islam, is also alarmed by the disarray in the main sunni country of yemen. Yemen appears to be on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, with saudis fearing a flood of refugees across the southern border.
The saudis have also seen an increase in Iran’s influence, as the houthi rebels are closely linked to Iran’s main shia voice, Iran. Iran is reported to have provided weapons to the houthi, although Iran denies that.
“Yemen joins other failed states in the region, which have become proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” NPR’s Deborah Amos told the morning edition. “We have seen this in Syria, and we have seen that in Iraq.”
The saudis carried out an air strike early Thursday in Saudi Arabia, targeting the military facilities he took over. Saudi Arabia has also massed troops along yemen’s northern border.
“This is a new king of Saudi Arabia (salman) the first big challenge, he saw all of the enemy, and there is no simple way to beat any of them,” Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson wrote in “foreign policy”.
Expanding chaos in the Middle East: yemen’s split is seen as part of a historic split in the region that has divided several middle eastern countries since the Arab uprisings four years ago.
Like yemen, international attention is likely to be limited, given all the other fires in the region from Iraq to Syria to Libya. Yemen has always been an uncontrolled place, with government control moving quickly from the capital.
The saudis are likely to make the biggest investments because they are the most vulnerable to refugee crises and security issues. But the saudis’ limited success in 2009 in northern yemen was designed to suppress the houthis uprising.
As with other shia Allies in the region, Iran can support the houthi at relatively low cost.
For the United States, yemen represents the expansion of unmanaged real estate in the Middle East, which has provided fertile ground for terrorist groups. After the Sept. 11 attacks, many in the U.S. government and security agencies argued that the United States must prevent failed states from becoming “al qaeda’s incubators.”
But the relentless turmoil in the Middle East has created so much instability that many militant fighters have come from so many places, and no one has called for an important American role in yemen.