A Houthi Shiite rebel stands in the rubble of houses that a Saudi airstrike destroyed Thursday in Sanaa. Warplanes targeting a nearby air base… View Enlarged Image
Saudi Arabia led airstrikes against Shiite rebels in Yemen as it seeks to prop up an allied government facing the loss of its last remaining stronghold.
The Saudis headed a coalition of 10 Sunni-ruled nations that carried out raids around Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, which is controlled by the Houthi rebels. The attack came after the rebels advanced on the southern port of Aden, where forces loyal to President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi had rallied. A new wave of bombings began late on Thursday, pounding army posts around the capital as anti-aircraft artillery fired back.
The coalition has no immediate plan to send ground troops to Yemen, though it’s ready to do so if needed and plans to continue the air operation as long as is necessary, Ahmed Asseri, a Saudi military officer and spokesman for the operation, said at a press conference in Riyadh.
Yemen’s conflict is drawing in neighbors and threatening a wider war in a region that holds more than half the world’s oil. Saudi Arabia and its allies support Hadi, while Shiite-led Iran has ties with the Houthis. Years of unrest and uprisings have already weakened Yemen’s government and allowed al-Qaida to establish a base in the country.
Why Yemen Matters To Oil
Brent crude prices jumped 4.8% Thursday to $59.19 a barrel, and U.S. futures climbed 4.5% to $51.43 a barrel.
While Yemen contributes less than 0.2% of global oil output, its location puts it near the center of world energy trade.
The nation shares a border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, and sits on one side of a shipping chokepoint used by tankers heading west from the Persian Gulf.
“There is a possibility that pirates could use the general instability as cover to mount attacks in the southern Red Sea around and north of Bab el-Mandeb,” the Baltic and International Maritime Council, which represents owners and operators in 130 countries, said by email.
Yemen has also become the latest proxy battleground between Saudi Arabia, the center of Sunni Islam, and Shiite Iran.
The Saudi decision to lead the military coalition, ostensibly a response to a neighboring government’s appeal for help, is also driven by a deep fear among Gulf officials that their states are being encircled by Iran.
Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told Bloomberg: “With the military coup by the Houthi militias, Iran thought it had the strategic opening that it wanted in Yemen. Iran has scored some major victories in Iraq and in Lebanon and is trying to consolidate influence in Syria.”
U.S. Logistical, Intel Support
Iran’s foreign minister said the Gulf intervention would play into the hands of al-Qaida and the Islamic State, according to state media.
The Houthis follow the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam and say they don’t take orders from Iran.
Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar said they responded to a request from Hadi, official Saudi media said. Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan are also part of the operation, according to Al Arabiya.
Arab foreign ministers meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh agreed in principle on a joint force, and Egypt has expressed readiness to send troops, Al Arabiya said.
The U.S., which withdrew its special forces from Yemen amid the past week’s turmoil, counts Hadi’s government as an ally against al-Qaida. President Obama has “authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support” for the Gulf-led operation, the White House said.
The goal of the bombing is “to create conditions to go back to the political process,” U.A.E.’s Gargash told Bloomberg.
United Nations-backed talks between the parties in Yemen have collapsed, and the Houthis have ruled out attending a proposed fresh round of negotiations in Saudi Arabia or Qatar.