BEIRUT, LEBANON (8:45 A.M.) – The conflict in Yemen has devastated this historical country and created a humanitarian disaster that has affected millions of people.
As one of the least understood conflicts in the Middle East, the war in Yemen has often been pitted as a Saudi Arabia vs. Iran showdown, rather than a long domestic dispute that has lasted for several decades.
There is no doubt that many foreign nations have political interests in Yemen, especially neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, who have been involved in the prior conflicts inside the country.
However, rather than being romanticized like the Syrian conflict in which the narrative was explained as peaceful protesters against a brutal dictator, Yemen has been described as a power-thirsty Shiite group against a Gulf-backed regime.
These “Shiite rebels”, which are members of the Ansarallah Movement (var. Houthis), are actually from the Zaydi Shiite denomination. The Zaydi Shiites are the second largest religious faction in Yemen; they are mostly concentrated in the northern part of the country, in particular, the historical Sana’a and Sa’ada governorates.
Before the Arab Coalition, There was Egypt
Before Iran was accused of controlling the Ansarallah Movement, the Zaydi Shiites were split between two political entities, the Mutawakkilite Kingdom (1918-1962) and the Arab nationalists.
During the Northern Yemen Civil War, the United Arab Republic (Syrian and Egypt), under then leader Jamal ‘Abdel-Nasser, intervened on behalf of republicans, while Saudi Arabia supported the Zaydi-led Mutawakkilite Kingdom.
Yemen would prove to be Egypt’s Vietnam War as they lost a large number of soldiers trying to overthrow the royalists, who managed to fend off the Egyptian military and eventually, force a stalemate.
Following talks between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Egyptian Armed Forces would withdraw from Yemen and Riyadh would withdraw their support for the royalists.
The Yemen Arab Republic would form as a result of this civil war, but this conflict is often remembered for Egypt’s devastating losses prior to the Six-Day War of 1967.
Saudi Arabia and their Arab allies are now in the same position in Yemen as Egypt was in the 1960s. The Saudi-led Coalition has failed to retake the capital city of Sana’a and their forces are now deadlocked with the Houthis in several governorates across the country.
Furthermore, the partial withdrawal of the United Arab Emirates’ troops from southern Yemen is a major loss for the Arab Coalition as for years the UAE backed some of the most powerful pro-government forces (i.e. Southern Resistance).
The Arab Coalition may continue to remain inside of Yemen, but they will find themselves in the same position as the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The Houthis have already proven that the nonstop air raids by the Arab Coalition has failed to weaken their resolve and won’t force them to the negotiations table.
Further adding to the Arab Coalition’s problems, the Houthis have increased their missile strikes on the Saudi military installations and airports; they have even attacked the Abu Dhabi Airport. The Houthis now possess new attack drones and cruise missiles to further antagonize the Arab Coalition.
While making peace with the Houthis is not ideal, the Arab Coalition cannot continue to suffer these losses in Yemen without making any military or political progress.