Yemen: Overview of the Newest Civil War in the Middle East
Yemen had been a battlefield for an international proxy war since September 2014, when the Houthi rebels seized control of the Capital City, Sanaa. The rebels rejected a government proposed constitution back in January, and in the following month, they announced the setup of a transitional presidential council. Yemen is currently suffering from a humanitarian crisis, considered to be caused by the ambitions of militias and dictators. Reports show that the Yemeni refugees are ill-treated and disrespected. Young men are reported to be piling up at the gates of the Saudi forces facing extreme conditions. Those who managed to escape the violence became refugees in Somalia, Djibouti and some other countries.
At this moment, vital infrastructure is destroyed. 54 health facilities, along with 462 schools have been completely and deliberately destroyed since the beginning of the conflict. Unfortunately, schools became buildings for violence. A very large amount of people is internally displaced, knowing a 24% increase in June, with 1,267,590 persons being in this situation. Since the conflict broke out, the country is known to suffer from shortages of food, fuel, medicine, as the land transport costs boosted by over 500% since the violence escalated back in March. Yet to add to this terrible situation, 9.4 million people have severely disrupted access to water, and outbreaks from water-borne diseases, to include cholera have been reported. 2.3 million children are at risk of developing acute illnesses. More than 15 million people are in need of basic health care, and countless wounded are dying because the hospitals are closing down due to the lack of fuel. As a result of total disruption by the war of all basic services, an estimated 20.4 million Yemenis are in great need of potable water.
For the most part of the 20th Century, Yemen existed as two separate countries, being the YAR – The Yemen Arab Republic in the North, and the PDRY – The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the South. In 1990, the countries chose to unify and create the Republic of Yemen. Unfortunately, soon after the unification took place, the southerners began complaining about the political and economic marginalization by the Sanaa’s government, as it ended up fighting a civil war in 1994 in a failed attempt to reverse the unification. Yemen became the poorest country in the Middle East due to instability and large-scale displacement, along with weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure. On the other hand, unemployment, the high prices of food, very limited social services made more than 10 million Yemenis food insecure.
In January 2015, the Houthi group said it would dissolve the Parliament and publicly announced plans for establishing a new interim assembly, along with a five-member presidential council that is supposed to rule for up to two years. The President of Yemen, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, fled to his home city of Aden in February. Just one month after, the Houthi forces began their advance in the Southern part of Yemen. A Saudi-led regional coalition to launch air strikes against the Houthi targets was prompted by the offensive of the Houthis, as the city of Aden was recaptured, as they launched an advance in the capital city in September of 2015.
The main fight that is taking place on the Yemeni territories is between forces that are loyal to the President Hadi and those that are allied with the Zaidi Shia rebels (or the Houthis). It is known that Yemen’s security forces have split loyalties, some units being known for backing President Hadi, while others are supporting the Houthis, along with Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is the predecessor of the current President. Both President Hadi and the Houthis are known to be opposed by the AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), being an organization that is known for staging many attacks from its strongholds in the Southern and South-Eastern part of the country.
Back in late March, after the rebel forces closed the President’s stronghold on Aden, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes on Houthi targets. The coalition is known to be comprised of five Gulf Arab states, along with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan. According to the Western intelligence, the involvement of the AQAP in the Yemen crisis complicates the situation even more than expected, considering the fact that the above-mentioned group is considered to be the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda because of its expertise along with the global reach.
The conflict in Yemen, as a whole, is also seen as a part of a regional struggle that has been carried out between the Shia-ruled Iran and the Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which is known to share a long border with Yemen. Back in 2005, by mid-March, more than 200 people were killed in a resurgence of fighting between the government forces and the supporters of Hussein al-Houthi. Over the course of that year, many were killed in clashes taking place on the streets. These events were repeating during 2006, 2007, and 2008 respectively. A ceasefire was signed in 2010 with the Houthi rebels from the North, but violence did not come to an end. In 2014, the Houthis took control over Sanaa, and the government was basically destroyed.
For the past years, Yemen witnessed violent conflicts that were caused for the most part by underlying problems of unequal access to power and resources. Up to this point, there were six rounds of fighting between the state and the Houthis in the North, the separatist unrest in the Southern part of the country, along with frequent attacks carried out by the AQAP, and power struggles between the tribal and military factions.
Iran was accused by the Gulf Arab states of backing the Houthis financially and militarily. Iran’s involvement in Yemen goes back years and ranges from political and religious support for Houthi leaders to military training and active involvement in the fighting, according to media reports and Yemen analysts. Several reports state the fact that Iran has regularly sent planes with war supplies, money and food. Also, Iran sent pilots to Lebanon to get Lebanese passports, as they helped the Yemenis in the series of fights that took place in the area.
Even though the economic situation from the country is known to be very unstable, Yemen is strategically important, due to the fact that it is situated on the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which is a narrow waterway linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, also being a passage for many of the world’s oil shipments.