The Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s takeover of the Yemeni capital Sanaa through the power of arms marked the end of the Yemenis’ peaceful uprising and the beginning of the war. I was certain that the war be will long and tough for several reasons.
For instance, former president, Saleh, was still in control of the armed forces and the Houthi movement is a group that takes orders from Iran. This is in addition to the lack of a central authority in Yemen and the country’s rough terrains.
The Iranian links to the war could be traced since the beginning and Iran did not hide them because it viewed the war as regional. Iran believes that opening a front against Saudi Arabia in Yemen is part of the geopolitical balance in Syria and Bahrain’s conflicts. Although many observers have denied this possibility since the beginning and mocked it, they later admitted Iran’s involvement. What’s interesting is that Tehran had not even bothered to hide it.
Saudi Arabia’s and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries’ only option in Yemen was confronting the Iranians who are fighting via their Houthi proxies and Saleh’s forces. There are documented reports of arrest of Iranian military men who were present in the warzones. This war aims to defend Gulf countries against Iran that wants to expand and threaten its neighbors.
The missiles which the rebels in Yemen fired deep into Saudi Arabia confirmed the fear that Saleh and Houthis have a missile system that threatens Saudi Arabia’s security. Later on international navy inspectors also found missiles in Iranian ships heading to Yemeni ports. The rebels use similar missiles to shell southern Saudi areas.
The war in Yemen, just like other wars in the region, is not a mere dispute among local groups. It is planned and funded by regional powers, mainly Iran, which appears determined to expand its influence and besiege it neighborsAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Two years later
Two years on after the war in Yemen began, it is important to remind of the facts which are often forgotten amid the developments of war.
First of all, it was the Yemeni people who ousted Saleh and established a new political situation. The people revolted against Saleh as a result of his failure in governance. Saleh was the longest-serving leader in the world and the most unsuccessful as well.
Altering the regime was not the desire or plan of Gulf countries. It was a result of the Arab Spring, which toppled several rulers – Moammar Qaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. After protests erupted in Sanaa, the UN acted out of fear and sought to organize the situation by assigning an envoy whose task was to maintain civil peace and propose a political plan which the GCC, the US and Europe agreed to.
The solution was establishing a democratic system through which a president and a parliament could be elected. All Yemeni parties agreed to this and a temporary transitional government was formed for the period of 18 months.
During this phase, they were supposed to draft a constitution and prepare for the elections. However, Saleh and the Houthis planned the coup, seized the whole of Yemen and arrested most ministers and political leaders.
After the rebels rejected all international efforts to convince them to retreat and after they rejected all additional concessions, military response was the only solution. The rebels had thus insisted to be in command and maintain their arms in what resembles Hezbollah’s situation in Lebanon.
The war in Yemen, just like other wars in the region, is not a mere dispute among local groups. It is planned and funded by regional powers, mainly Iran, which appears determined to expand its influence and besiege it neighbors.
Unfortunately, the war was thus painfully imposed on the Yemenis and the Saudis. It is unacceptable to let the Iranian regime use Yemen as a base to attack the latter’s neighbor without militarily confronting it.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on April 03, 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.