Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir has said that the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen will not be allowed to take the country from the Yemeni government.
Since 2004, Yemen has been embroiled in a sectarian conflict between Houthis, the Zaidi Shia followers of dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, and the Yemeni military. By 2014, the Houthis had successfully taken over the country; this was overturned in 2015 by a major Saudi-led intervention.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in a form of proxy war in Yemen, with Iran backing the Houthis and Saudi Arabia supporting the Yemeni government.
Speaking to Reuters in Beijing, Juberi said that “what is certain, not questionable, certain, is they will not be allowed to take over Yemen. Period. So the legitimate government will be defended.”
He said it is up to the Houthis to resume faltered peace talks. He also said that he’d like to “be as good neighbors, like before the 1979 revolution” in reference to Iran-Saudi Arabia relations.
The ideological divide between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran has lead to a bipolar geopolitical landscape in the Middle East, with the two countries supporting opposing factions in local conflicts. In Syria, Iran sends soldiers, arms, and money to President Bashard al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia aids the rebels.
Competition over oil export policy and regional dominance also have heightened tensions between the two countries, which once enjoyed close relations. Further, Saudi Arabia enjoys close relations with the US and the UK, while Iran’s 1979 revolution was predicated on rejecting all ties with the “decadent” west.
Both countries’ heavy involvement in the Yemeni crisis has led to a series of standoffs and tense interludes. Iranian-backed Houthis have previously crossed into Saudi territory and killed border guards. When Houthis seized Mt. Dude, a strategically important peak near the Saudi border, Saudi Arabia responded by bombing and invading the north of the country.