By Anaida Kuthiala, Army Institute of Law, Mohali.
A reminiscent of the “Great Game”1 played out in Afghanistan, between the Great Britain and Russia which was a strategic rivalry and conflict for attaining supremacy in central Asia, more than a thousand years ago, was the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran engaged in their own decade-long strategic contention for power and influence. The Houthis2, a Zaidi group, began as a theological3 movement preaching peace, but now they find themselves at the centre of an international conflict. This movement turned hostile in the year of 2004 on the grounds of self-defence when the first war with the Govt. erupted, the aftermath of which was that the then president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh sent Govt. forces to stop the Houthi’s protests in the mosques situated in Yemen, during which the then leader of the Houthi’s group was killed.
Even though the Saudi Arabia Govt. insisted that it is not at war with Iran, despite its three week air campaign against Tehran-rebels in Yemen, the kingdom’s regional Govt’s increasingly presented their rivalry as a region wide battle for the soul of Islam. The republic of Yemen has been engulfed in a turmoil since the Iranian-backed Houthi’s seized the capital of Yemen; Sanaa and advanced on the southern city of Aden, forcing the Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee into exile in Saudi Arabia. At the same time ,the Saudi led coalition carried out air strikes and bombings in Yemen since March 26, 2015 to push back the Houthi rebels and restore the exiled president Hadi’s authority. Thousands of people have died or have been injured by these air strikes and ground fighting since the campaign began and the number is still counting.
Yemen is in the grip of its most severe crisis since the past years, as competing forces fight for complete control over the country. Iran’s long-term strategic interest in Yemen is mainly attributed to its geographical features like its location being at the south-western tip of the gulf peninsula, it being poorly governed and an easy and ancient smuggling route. Yemen is strategically important as it sits on the Bab al-Mandab strait, a narrow waterway linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world’s oil shipment pass. Egypt and Saudi Arabia fear that a Houthi takeover would threaten free passage through the strait
Furthermore one realizes and observes that Yemen’s security forces have split loyalties, with some units backing up Mr. Hadi, and others the Houthis. Both, president Hadi and the Houthis are opposed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has staged many deadly attacks. Tension between the Kingdom and the Islamic republic are at a boil at the moment, with constant shows of power, might and rivalry. The U.S. in this matter has accepted to be of assistance and is increasingly willing to work tacitly with Iran to defeat Sunni extremist groups like al- Quida and ISIS4 (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) and stop the fighting, which has led to what the UN says is a “catastrophic humanitarian situation”. The republic of Yemen has in fact become the new safe haven for al-Qaida as it is the key base for the would-be terrorists taking into consideration the insurgency in the remote areas of Yemen. It is believed that al-Qaida has been able to establish a regional base in Yemen because the Govt. is weak and distracted by internal conflict. Not only is the country torn between a war and a national crisis due to this rivalry, but also a Saudi-led blockade on maritime traffic, has limited commercial goods from entering Yemen, forcing the prices of food and fuel to skyrocket and forcing the country to be just “one step away from a famine”. The amplifying degree in terrors due to absence of law and order and the steadily increasing instances of kidnappings and attacks, the food famine and the deteriorating political scenario is consequential of this catastrophic rivalry between the two great powers of Saudi Arabia and the “Iranian-backed” Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Thus it is imperative that this struggle and rivalry be ended for the good of the people of not only Yemen but of the world and thus establish international justice and peace by sieving out the terror groups and the unwanted elements of the society.
1 In the Post-Colonial Period, the term has continued in use to describe the mechanisations of the great powers and regional powers as they vie for geopolitical power and influence in the area.
2 Also known as Ansar Allah; Supporters of god
3 Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world.
4 Drone strike kills three Qaeda suspects in Yemen, AFP Aden, June 10,2015, Hindustan Times. See: http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/drone-strike-kills-three-qaeda-suspects-in-yemen/article1-1357021.aspx (Accessed on 21 June, 2015)