Yemeni officials have issued new calls for an end to involvement by Iran in the ongoing war within its borders.
Despite the increased international focus on the war in Syria, Yemen has faced a similarly devastating war fueled by opposing visions for the Middle East.
The country has been gripped by an iruprising since 2011 when the Houthis, a Zaydi Shi’ite group, took control of several Yemeni governates. Syrian President Abd-Rabbou Mansour Hadi, who inherited power from the autocratic Ali Abdullah Saleh after Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations in 2011, was unable to prevent the Houthi rebels from seizing the capital Sanaa in 2015, and fled to Saudi Arabia.
The conflict is often viewed as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia because of the two countries’ opposing roles in the conflict. While Iran has supported the Houthi rebels who share the Iranian leadership’s Shi’ite religion (although Iran is not Zaydi), Saudi Arabia has backed Hadi’s Sunni government.
Saudi Arabia has continually accused Iran of supporting the rebels, which Iran officially denies. Although Saudi Arabia has probably exaggerated the extent of Iran’s involvement in the conflict (hard numbers are difficult to obtain), there have been several telltale signs of Iran supporting the Houthis, with confidential U.S. military personnel claiming that Iran has been smuggling in weapons and Iranian warships being sighted near Yemen.
Iran’s position has been strengthened by the Houthi’s control of Sanaa and, according to U.S. and Western sources who spoke with Reuters, Yemen’s overground smuggling routes have seen a sharp increase in activity due to a spike in Iranian arms shipments.
“We are aware of a recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border,” said an anonymous Western diplomat to Reuters. The claim was confirmed by three U.S. officials.
“What they’re bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives…, money and personnel,” one U.S. official said. Another source added that they had also witnessed shipments of short-range missiles and small arms.
An anonymous senior Iranian diplomat also confirmed to Reuters that Iran was trying to retain its upper hand in the conflict by flooding the Houthis with weapons as part of a grander geopolitical contest with Saudi Arabia.
Speaking at the 43rd OIC conference in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, Zain Qu’aiti, Yemeni ambassador to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called on OIC member states to support Mr. Hadi’s “legitimate” government.
Qu’aiti stated emphatically that the Yemeni government is keen to end the conflict and that it recognizes the legitimacy of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216, passed in 2015, calling for an end to the violence in Yemen that would favor the Hadi government.
Saudi Arabia and Iran’s involvement in the conflict have also grown more controversial as the death toll and destruction have added up. The war has already left at least 10,000 dead, among them 40,000 civilians, and has displaced 3.2 million of Yemen’s 27 million citizens. It has also provoked a widespread famine. Before the war began, Yemen was already the region’s poorest country.
The war has also brought in outside players who either have a stake in the conflict or have been directly impacted by it. The U.S. has been struck by Houthi rebel’s missile attacks in the Red Sea, prompting a U.S. counterattack last Thursday. Houthis have also struck United Arab Emirates vessels. Yemen’s neighbor Oman has been accused of hypocrisy for betraying its “friend to all” diplomatic stance by allowing arms shipments to flood into Yemen.
The implementation of a ceasefire in Yemen was immediately greeted with violence by Houthi and Saleh supporters, who shelled the Hasnat and Tha’abat neighbourhoods in the eastern part of the city. The ceasefire followed the Saudi bombing of a funeral in Sanaa, which killed 140 and was internationally condemned.
While the war rages on in Yemen, the failure of the international community to reach an accord on Syria does not bode well for peace in the small, struggling nation.