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Frosty prospects for Yemen conflict

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

01-13-2016 17:56 BJT

By Yan Jian, Assistant Director, Center for Global Governance and Development Strategies, Central Compilation and Translation Bureau of CPC Central Committee

The Saudi Arabia-Iran diplomatic row dominates the news headlines. On January 2, 2016, Saudi Arabia executed Saudi-born Shia Islam cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, which triggered large-scale protests in Iran, a Shia majority Muslim country. Demonstrators had ransacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and set it ablaze.


On January 3, Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran. Saudi's foreign minister ordered "all Iranian diplomats to leave the country within 48 hours."

Over the years, bilateral relations have been strained over issues, such as the interpretations of Islam, aspirations for leadership of the Islamic world, oil export policy, as well as relations with the US and the West.

Following the Iranian Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, Iran started to criticize the religious legitimacy of the Saudi regime. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Riyadh had provided aid to the then Saddam Hussein government.

This is not the first time Riyadh had cut ties with Tehran. In 1988, Saudi Arabia's banned Iranians from making pilgrimages to Mecca. Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran after one of its diplomats in Tehran was killed in a violent clash with Iranian demonstrators. Normal relations had resumed in 1991.

Riyadh and Tehran have engaged in proxy wars to undermine each other, with some hot and other cold. In Lebanon, it's the Iran-backed Hezbollah. In Syria, it's the longtime Iran-backed Al Bashar Assad regime. In Yemen, it's the Iran-backed Houthi forces.

Simmering hostilities are overshadowing better prospects for Yemen. Houthis, a Shia Islam group from northern Yemen, began its insurgency against the Yemeni government in 2004. After ten years of sporadic fighting and ceasefires, Houthis fighters have seized Sana'a, Yemen's capital in September 2014.

In January 2015, unhappy with a proposal to split the country into six federal regions, Houthi fighters seized the presidential compound in Sana'a. President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was forced to resign and placed under house arrest.

Security conditions in Yemen have deteriorated further after President Hadi escaped from his confinement in Sana'a to Aden, the old capital of south Yemen, on February 21, 2015.

On March 19, the Houthi-led Supreme Revolutionary Committee had declared mobilization to overthrow Hadi and to expand its control into southern provinces. By March 25, Houthis forces had reached the outskirts of Aden.

Houthi forces were only stopped after Saudi Arabia had intervened militarily in Yemen, along with an alliance from eight other Arab states and support from the United States in late March 2015.

With the help of Saudi-led airstrikes, pro-government fighters had recaptured Aden last July. Houthi forces retreated to northern Yemen and a military stalemate has ensued.

Meanwhile, Iran has preferred to play its role behind the curtain. Riyadh has long alleged that Houthis receive weapons and training from Iran, although both sides have denied any affiliation with each other.

The New York Times cited claims from unnamed US military and intelligence officials that the Quds Force, an elite arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC), was smuggling AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades, and other arms to Houthi rebels.

In January 2013, a cache of weapons seized from a ship off the coast of Yemen, appeared to have Iranian markings, which included surface-to-air missiles, C-4 explosives, and other weapons allegedly destined for the Houthis.

Reportedly, two Iranian officers were captured in Aden during a dispute between the local militia and Houthis last year.  According to local pro-Saudi militia, military advisers to the Houthis were connected with Iranian Quds Force.

Hence, Iran is likely to retaliate by ramping up support for Houthis forces. Riyadh has no intention of staying away from Yemen as well. Saudi Arabia shares a porous 1,770km southern border with Yemen and the stakes are too high.

Riyadh cannot allow instability in Yemen or permit Iran to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, Yemen could fall victim to intensified hostilities between Riyadh and Tehran.

Yemen holds an important strategic position at the southern tip of Arabian Peninsula, while ongoing tribal disputes with no resolution in sight have sparked secessionist movements in the northern and southern parts of the country.

The humanitarian toll has been staggering. According to Oxfam, more than 10 million Yemenis did not have enough food to eat, in addition to 850,000 half-starved children.

Over 13 million civilians do not have access to clean water. International humanitarian relief efforts are a race against time.  The on-going Yemen conflict will strike a blow to the reconstruction efforts of the war-torn nation.

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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