Fortunately for the Obama Administration, Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes and other efforts to disrupt the Houthi takeover of Yemen give the US an out when it comes to America’s role in the conflict. In truth, the conflict between the minority Houthi and the Hadi Administration is an internal issue as the Houthi are rebels, not terrorists. That said, a stable Yemen free of Iranian influence is in the interest of Saudi Arabia as Yemen’s neighbor while the situation in Yemen is an issue for the United States due to the presence of Al Qaeda.
Unfortunately, Yemen has been a weak country for many years, which has allowed discontent to fester and Al Qaeda to flourish. As such, it is really no surprise that some revolutionary group would manage to basically drive the Yemeni government out of the country. Yemen serving as a safe haven for globalized terrorist groups does, however, make the collapse of the Yemeni government an issue for the world that must be addressed and Saudi Arabia is leading that effort, which is a good sign that Middle Eastern countries are doing more to provide for their own regional security.
On the other hand, the United States still finds itself in a conundrum. While the US is inadvertently providing air support for Iran thanks to its involvement in Iraq’s military campaign against the Islamic State, Iran is believed to be supporting the Houthi rebels, who are also supported by former Yemeni President and US ally Saleh Ali Abdullah. This, of course, comes at a time when the US is trying to reach a nuclear deal with Iran and avoid siding with Iran in favor of the Assad regime against the Free Syrian Army in Syria.
For Saudi Arabia, the collapse of the Hadi Administration would not be such a problem so long as Yemen maintains some degree of stability. Unfortunately, the Arab Spring Revolutions are likely leaving the Saudis gun-shy when it comes to ignoring civil unrest. Although the Arab Spring Revolution in Yemen left Mr. Hadi in power, he has clearly not done enough to secure the support of his People. Similarly, a return to the Saleh regime is not likely to be an improvement while minority-rule rarely results in a stable, free society. Consequently, the only certainty about the outcome of the power struggle in Yemen is that it will take a great deal of work is needed build a strong, responsive Yemeni government.
For Iran, a Yemen in crisis is in its interests for a variety of reason. Not only does a conflict in Saudi Arabia’s neighbor help push up oil prices, which is what Iran needs, it undermines Saudi Arabia’s ability to exert its influence throughout the Middle East and, potentially, its oil production. In turn, this weakens US influence, which is particularly problematic given political issues with Israel and Turkey that undermine their regional clout. If the Houthi rebels manage to fully assert their influence in Yemen, Iran might gain the benefit of an ally.
On the other hand, Iran’s support of the Houthi rebels creates a point of contention that undermines Iran’s negotiating power when it comes to negotiating a nuclear as supporting destabilizing entities like the Houthi rebels and the Assad regime tend to unite others again you. In other words, power players like the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia may forgo issues they have with each other in order to take out the Iran threat. Although nuclear weapons are clearly a major threat, they are one set of issues the West and most of the Middle East has with Iran.
Given Iran is determined to play an antagonistic role in the Middle East as part of its efforts to turn itself into a regional influence, strengthening Iraq is not advisable. That said, empowering the Iranian People by focusing on ways to use sanctions relief to free the Iranian People from the oppression of their government is. It is also important to recognize low oil prices and Iran’s ever-expanding expenditure in its bid to influence the region undermines the ability of the Iranian government to suppress its own People. In other words, sanctions should be lifted in a way that the People see the most direct benefit, i.e. leave government officials and businesses under the sanctions while the People of Iran need help regaining influence over their own government.
Read old posts