The tribal groups in north Yemen that make up the Houthi movement have always been distinct in their fighting spirits. When the Saudi army was send to beat them it was thoroughly defeated. They have also always felt that they did not receive a fair share of Yemen’s not so big oil revenues and other spoils. During the last decades they fought some six small wars against the Yemeni army.
In 2012 the U.S. and its Wahhabi Arabic Gulf allies expelled the longtime Yemeni president Saleh and replaced him with his vice president Hadi. There was some hope that Hadi would change the quarrel on the ground and teh dysfunctional state but the unrest in the country kept growing and as the oil prices went down so went the Yemeni government.
Hadi could only beg the Saudis to finance him and in return had to fulfill their political demands. Meanwhile al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula kept growing in Yemen, U.S. drone strikes killed more and more tribe members in the south and deserved revenge and a southern independence movement added to the tumult. All this led to the rise of the Houthis (video, 45min).
The Houthis, allied with the former president Saleh and some parts of the dysfunctional Yemeni army, decided to take on the state. In 2014 they captured parts of the capitol Sanaa and expanded the territory they controlled. In January Hadi fled to Aden in the south. Many people belonging to the Houthi groups are Zaidi Shia. Their believe differs from Iranian 12er Shia believe and their religious rituals have more in common with Sunni rituals than with mainstream Shia. Yemen is in general not as sectarian as other gulf countries. Various variants of believe mix and often use the same mosques.
But Houthi, like many other Yemenis, despise the Saudis and their Wahhabism. It is mostly therefore that they are accused of being allied with Iran. While there are certainly some sympathies between Iran and the Houthi groups there is no evidence of outright support.
Today the Houthi expanded their rule to southern Yemen including to the southern main city Aden. President Hadi, deposed by the now ruling Houthi leaders, fled the city and allegedly went into exile in Oman. The Houthi are now the main force in the country and in control of the government.
The Gulf countries and the U.S., who supported Hadi, shut down their embassies and U.S. troops left the country. Hadi has called on the United Nations, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council to send troops into Yemen. Egypt had troops fighting in Yemen during the North Yemen civil war between 1962 and 1970. It was a disaster and some 26,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed. In 2009 the Saudi army fought against north Yemeni tribes in a small conflict over the Saudi Yemeni border barrier, the smuggling of drugs, weapons and immigrants, as well as grazing rights. Within three month the Saudis lost at least 133 men and the overall conflict. In March the Saudis requested troops from Pakistan to fight its war against the allegedly Iran allied Yemeni Houthi groups. To their surprise Pakistan rejected the request.
While the Saudi army is now sending some troops to its southern border with Yemen neither the Saudi army nor the Egyptian will want to fight and lose again against the Yemeni tribes. The Pakistanis are unwilling to send troops. The request for troops the disposed president Hadi made will therefore be ignored. No foreign troops will invade Yemen and the Houthis will for now remain the ruling force. As they lack, like the whole country, money and other resources they will soon look for a “sponsor”. Iran might give a bit but the Saudis will have to really pay up to keep their border with Yemen quiet. Unlike before that money will no longer buy them any influence but only keep trouble away.
Yemen has now joined the Iran led axis of resistance consisting of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hizbullah in Lebanon. The Saudi Wahhabis see these mostly Shia forces as their eternal enemies. Like the other axis members Yemen will now fight against the Saudi sponsored AlQaeda and Islamic State jihadis.
The U.S., while allied with Saudi Arabia and the other anti-Shia Arab countries at the Gulf, needs Hizbullah to keep Lebanon from falling apart. It does not want the Syrian government to fall. It supports the Iraqi government against the Islamic State and it is likely to soon request support from the Houthis for its drone campaign against AlQaeda in the Arab peninsula.
This is a remarkable turn around from a decade ago when the resistance side was a major U.S. enemy and seemed to be losing the fight.
Posted by b on March 25, 2015 at 12:20 PM | Permalink