The Yemen crisis and the US dilemma

Lalit Shastri

yemen crisisWith the escalation of the Yemen crisis, the US is caught between two diametrically opposite ends as on the one side, it is determined to carve out a nuclear deal to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons and on the other it has no option but to support the Hadi loyalists, who have the backing of the Saudi coalition against the Houthi rebels.

While pursuing talks with Iran for a nuclear deal, the US is also confronted with the situation in Yemen and what it perceives as “Iran’s support to terrorists”. The US Secretary of State John Kerry in a latest PBS interview has expressed concern about Iran’s support of the Houthi rebels.

Iran’s behavior in the region that causes us great concern – support for terrorism, detention of American citizens, and so forth. –  Jeff Rathke, Acting Deputy Spokesperson, US Department of State


At the root of the Yemen crisis is the big divide between communities following the two warring sects – the Sunni and the Shia. While the adherents of Sunni Islam dominate Suadi Arabia, Iran is the spiritual bastion of Shia Islam.

The situation is catastrophic in war-torn Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are locked in a war with Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi loyalist, who are receiving full support from the Saudi coalition.

A Houthi official is seen declaring the dissolution of parliament in Sana'a  (6 February 2015)
A Houthi official is seen declaring the dissolution of parliament in Sana’a (6 February 2015)

A Houthi official is seen declaring the dissolution of parliament in Sana’a (6 February 2015)

January 22 this year, Hadi, President of Yemen since 27 February 2012, had resigned. Immediately thereafter the Houthis put him under house arrest and took over the presidential palace. But Hadi managed to escape to Aden – his hometown, where he rescinded his resignation and declared the Houthi takeover as unconstitutional before he fled to Saudi Arabia..

The US has also taken the stand that Hadi remains the legitimate President of Yemen and is hopeful that he would soon return.

To understand the situation in Yemen, one has to go back to 1994, when during the civil war, the Islamic group of Wahabbis that followed the Sunni Islamic sect which also dominates Saudi Arabia, had pitched in to support the Government fight the secessionist forces in southern Yemen.

The subsequent Houthi insurgency in Yemen originated in Northern Yemen in June 2004 with an uprising against the government led by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of the Zaidi sect. At that time most of the violence and fighting was in the northern Sa’dah province. The civil war also reverberated in the neighbouring prvinces of Hajjah, ‘Amran, al-Jawf and the Saudi province of Jizan.

All along the Government in Yemen has been accusing Iran of supporting and financing the insurgents. The rebels, on the other side have kept accusing Saudi Arabia of supporting the Yemeni government in attacks against them.

Waves of offensive by the insurgents have battered Yemen right since 2004. Recently, before Hadi took refuge in Aden, the Houthis accused him of arming members of Al-Qaeda in the Marib province. The Zaidi Shia Houthis in Yemen have the full backing of Iran, where statehood is synonymous with Shia religion.

In the prevailing scenario, the American dilemma is that the nuclear agreement might turn into a mirage if the Yemen crisis intensifies further. The situation from the US point of view has turned more complex with the latest allegation that Houthis are arming the Al-Qaeda.

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