Yemen separatist militias, better known as Houthis, launched a drone attack last Sept. 14, against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities disrupting half of the country’s oil capacity and affecting global supply.
No matter how much the Houthis claimed responsibility, the international community thinks otherwise. Mike Pompeo accused Iran of being behind the attacks, the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen reported that the Houthis did acquire advanced drones, Saudi officials rushed to present evidence of the wreckage of what it looks like an Iranian made drones found at the site.
Evidence presented by Saudi officials Photo source: npr.org Amr Nabil/AP
Experts on Nonproliferation Studies mentioned three reasons why the Houthi rebels probably didn’t do it:
- Math never lies. There were 17 impacts vs. 10 drones the rebels claimed were launched.
- Distance matters. The attack was 500 miles off the border with Yemen, the rebels’ weapons didn’t have the range.
- Sophisticated strategy. Houthis could have the technical capability to fly one or two drones into Saudi Arabia, but such a sophisticated attack is less than likely according to Fabian Hinz
After days of going on and off with the assumption that Iran’s was somehow involved in the attack, today, Sept. 20 the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, announced that the Pentagon will deploy U.S. forces to the Middle East focusing on air and missile defense, adding that Saudi Arabia requested the support.
“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense.”
The Secretary of Defense reiterated that the United States did not seek conflict and called on Tehran to return to diplomatic channels.
The current conflict makes me think about game theory, specifically the chicken-game on which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be called a “chicken.”
The difference is that instead of a single-car crash, we are talking about countries with real nuclear capabilities on which neither of the leaders would like to be called a chicken.
If we get lucky enough, perhaps the U.S. and Iran decide to play a different game, like the stag game or coordination game: where each of them must choose to hunt either a stag or a hare, and each country must decide on the action without knowing the choice of the other. If an individual hunts a stag, they must have the cooperation of their partner to succeed. An individual can get a hare by himself, but a hare is worth less than a stag.
No matter what game the U.S and Iran decide to play, the fact is, the conflict in Yemen has reached its tipping point.
The conflict in Yemen is one of the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster, according to the UNHCR, here are “22.2 million Yemenis now in need of humanitarian assistance.” Of those killed in the conflict in the last four years, OHCHR has attributed “4,585 deaths to actions by the Saudi-led international coalition, 1,448 to the Houthi opposition militia and their allies, and 367 to extremists Al Qaeda and ISIL” you can read the full note on the UN News webpage.
Approximately 2 million displaced people now languish in desperate conditions, away from home and deprived of basic needs, they arrived into neighboring countries seeking refuge while their homeland battles for survival.
Yemen situation 2017
- Ansar Allah, better known as the Houthi Movement a Yemeni Zaidi Shia group who ousted Saleh in 2011 and who has strong ties to Iran.
- Gulf Cooperation Council, an anti-Houthi coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, who support Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi government.
When did all this disaster begin in the first place?
When the last Imam Ahmad bin Yahya died in 1962, Yemen entered a civil war that ended with the creation of two independent states: the Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDYR) or South Yemen. One backed up by Saudi Arabia, Britain and Jordan, and the later by the Eastern bloc.
Both regions entangled in intermittent conflicts from 1972 until 1990 when the two governments finally reached an agreement and Ali Abdullah Saleh (YAR) became president of the new Republic of Yemen, and Ali Salim al-Beidth (PDYR) became the vice-president.
While progress was made in forming a unified government and constitution, relations were still strained between the north and south. Conflicts within the ruling coalition led to the 1993 self-imposed exile of Vice President Ali Salim Al-Bidh as political rivals settled scores on their own, leading to a deterioration in the security situation. Despite continuous negotiations between northern and southern leaders, clashes intensified and secessionists from the south conceded in 1994 and consolidated Ali Abdullah Saleh as president of Yemen.
Ali Abdullah Saleh served from 1978 until 1990 president of the Yemen Arab Republic and from 1990 to 2012 as president of Yemen when he resigned after the Yemeni Revolution, and died on December 2017 at the hands of the Houthi movement.
Did you know? South Yemen separatists had the support of Saudi Arabia against Saleh, but Ali Abdullah Saleh used Islamic militants to repress the separatists, decades after Saudi Arabia leads an anti-Houthis coalition. Strangely enough, the Houthi accepted Ali Abdullah Saleh help to combat Saudi forces back in 2014, but when they find out about Saleh’s conspiracy to go back to power, they allegedly killed him.
Recommended readings: Johnsen, Gregory D. “The last refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s war in Arabia” and Gelvin, James L. “The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know.”
Who are the Houthis?
Ansar Allah (“Supporters of Allah”) better known as the Houthi Movement. The group has its origins in the 1990s under the leadership of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi (ergo the Houthis) who sought to oust Ali Abdullah Saleh due to his ties with Saudi Arabia and the United States, the group is predominantly Shi’a.
By the 2000s, the movement evolved into a military insurgency seeking greater autonomy for Houthi-majority regions, the group pledged to fight Saleh’s corruption, a politically driven move that gained support during the Arab Spring and ultimately helped to oust Saleh in 2012.
What is the Gulf Cooperation Council?
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a regional intergovernmental political and economic union consisting of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf except Iraq, namely: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The purpose of the GCC is to create a “Gulf Union” and counterbalance Iran’s influence in the region.
Led by Saudi Arabia, the GCC seeks to consolidate a common market (created on 2008), a monetary union (designed on 2014 but not yet implemented), and strengthen the Penninsula Shield Force a joint military venture intended to deter, and respond to, military aggression against any of the GCC member countries.
Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain News Agency via AP)