Yemen – the weakest link

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Sana’a, the capital of Yemen (National Geographic)

March 28, 2015
Vladimir Efimov for
Originally published on October 29, 2014
Translated by Kristina Rus


At the end of September a coup happened in Yemen. The fighters of the Shiite rebel group “Ansar Allah” under the leadership of A. Husi established complete control over the country’s capital Sana’a. Then, in October the Houthis captured and practically blocked all approaches to the largest seaport of the country on the Red sea – Hodeidah, which is the largest shipping point for arms trade and the rebels managed to capture several large arsenals of weapons. With the capture of Hodeidah they got control of the sea channel to receive weapons and ammunition. The second is the overland route through Hadramaut in the East of South Yemen.

The port of Hodeidah


The failure of the Yemeni initiative of the GCC

The sic members of the GCC

It became clear that the real objective of the Houthis, surrounding Sana’a a few weeks before, was the overthrow of the ruling regime and President A. Hadi. The Houthis and Iran, as well as the former President of Yemen A. Saleh benefited from the disruption of the Yemeni initiative of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and the decisions of the national dialogue conference, as this initiative did not take into account the legitimate interests of the Shia Houthis (up to 45% of the population of the Republic of Yemen) and the supporters of the former head of state. But it favored the position of Saudi Arabia and the West in Yemen. 

It is clear that the take over of power by the Houthis in the country allows Tehran to deliver a powerful blow to Saudi Arabia from the South-Western direction. And this is justified – Iran is long tired of the constant intrigues of Riyadh in Iraq and Syria, attempts to 

disrupt the process towards agreements on the Iranian nuclear program with the United States and other members of “the six”.

USA, with the support of the UK and the GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia (KSA), was unable to save the ruling Yemeni regime, where the main role was played by the movement “Islah”, similar in ideology to the “Muslim Brotherhood”. Washington and Riyadh got too bogged down with creating a real anti-terrorist coalition in Iraq, virtually eliminating Russia, Iran and Syria. And this led to a powerful retaliatory strike in North-Eastern Syria by the militants of the Islamic State and a beginning of activities in the Baghdad area. 

Moreover, recently the media leaked information that the main purpose of ISIS is not Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria, but Saudi Arabia and other rich in oil and gas Arabian monarchies. The loss of a key partner in Arabia and in the Persian Gulf in the face of KSA and Qatar, will mean a defeat in the war of the US and the EU against Russia for global energy dominance. And all of this is fueled by the hysteria of Riyadh, which sees the hand of Tehran everywhere, allegedly seeking to destroy the Saudi Kingdom and to establish total Shiite dominance over oil and gas resources of the region through its Shiite allies from Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, the Eastern province of KSA and Bahrain.

 In principle it should not be excluded, if Obama does not stop his aggressive course in the region. But the US itself started the current destructive processes, launching “democratization” of the Arab world in 2011 by inciting “color” revolutions. In addition, the capture by the Shiite Houthis of Sana’a has brought significant changes in the balance of power in the strategically important southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, located on the border of the wealthiest and most influential Arab State – Saudi Arabia – the main strategic partner of the US in the Persian Gulf. Plus this area is located at the intersection of important world shipping routes from Europe to Asia via the Suez canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The events in Yemen are of great regional importance

The events in Yemen caused great alarm and an extremely negative reaction in neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has accused Iran of providing financial and military support to the rebels. According to Riyadh, Tehran seeks to establish a Shiite foothold in the South of the Arabian Peninsula, while Saudi Arabia has always viewed itself as a guarantor of stability in Yemen and defender of the Sunni majority. Iran, for its part, claims that it provides only moral support for the Houthis. Although it is clear to anyone that Iran is not satisfied with the chaos in the Middle East caused by the actions of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Especially what is happening in Syria and Iraq. And Iran itself is under the sanctions, initiated by Washington. 

Therefore, Tehran, as believed by many Western and Arab political analysts, wants to create a Shiite arc from Iran to Lebanon via Syria and Iraq, and also include Bahrain, Yemen and in the future – the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where Shiites live and where the main oil reserves of the Kingdom are located. A military operation of the USA, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Jordan only increased the fears of Tehran that it is only a Sunni tool of Washington and Riyadh against the Shiites and specifically – Iran. In addition, the change of government in Sana’a strengthens Iran’s position in negotiations with the West over its nuclear program.

Today, Yemen is one of the weakest links in Arabic “arc of instability”. This poor country, with diverse religious, ethnic and tribal composition, has a crucial geopolitical importance. Religious and tribal conflicts in Yemen are difficult to overcome: the Shiites are not in fact a minority, they represent slightly less than half of the inhabitants of Yemen (not less than 45%). In addition, there is a problem with the South. The unification of North and South Yemen over 20 years ago was actually an occupation of the South, which still has not accepted their subordinate status and is seeking independence. In our days in the South of Yemen, home to over 2.5 million people, separatism has again reared its head. The capture of Sana’a by the Houthis may lead to the separation of South Yemen.



U.S. policy is the root of Yemeni crisis

In any case, the U.S. policy in the Middle East is largely to blame for what happened in Yemen. It is America that brought Sunni radicals to the political arena in the face of Al-Qaida and the Taliban, and then ISIS. Washington supports the monarchs of the Persian Gulf, who are the followers of Salafism and radical Sunni Islam, sponsors of exports of color revolutions abroad. By supporting the Sunnis and contributing to the spread of their influence, including in the fight against the Shiites and Iran, the USA unwillingly rallied the ranks of the Shiites in their stand-off against the Sunnis. 

Arming Sunnis in the Persian Gulf, the US has besieged the Shiite Iran with sanctions to deprive it of the right to develop nuclear energy. The U.S. aggression against Syria headed by Bashar al-Assad, the representative of the Alawite-Shia clan, is also directly related to the suppression of the Shia to aid the Sunni monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which Americans use in the current oil-gas war against Russia. Riyadh has significantly increased the supply of oil on the world market, and Qatar is increasing spot LNG supplies to the EU. At the same time the war front of Shiites and Sunnis is expanding in Iraq.

Shia vs. Sunni

What’s next?

In conditions of a sharp increase in centrifugal tendencies in Yemen, the Houthis tactics are reminiscent of the “creeping coup”, rather than a quick armed seizure of power. They will use the same methods to creep into the power structures and to strengthen their presence. This scenario causes the greatest concern to Riyadh. The emergence of a Shiite hot spot on the borders of Saudi Arabia is perhaps the greatest challenge to the Saudis, after the activities of ISIS militants on the Northern borders of the Kingdom. In this regard, the Saudis resumed financial grants to the Northern tribes of Hashed group – the base of A. Saleh. 

Riyadh, which three years ago it was one of the sponsors of the “Yemeni revolution”, is now trying to get it back. Today the Saudis, under the pretext of a “Shiite threat,” can go for the reinstatement of Saleh clan in conjunction with his loyal tribes. But no matter the outcome of these intrigues of the Saudi Kingdom and the Americans, an appearance in the North of Yemen of a “Shiite enclave” remains a reality, which will undoubtedly remain in a tight orbit of Tehran.


The idea of recreating the Shiite “Zeidi Imamate” within the boundaries of 1962 is quite real. The Houthi rebels are in full control of Sana’a and almost the entire North of the country (provinces of Saada, Dhamar, Amran, Hajjah, parts of the provinces of Marib, Hauf and Sansa). They will try to pressure A. Hadi and get key posts in the new Cabinet under the formal conservation of the state of Yemen. As for Iran, it is more important to get rid of the sanctions, rather than to interfere in Yemen. But it is quite possible to use it in terms of influence on the position of the West.

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