The U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced on Tuesday that his country is pushing for negotiations to put an end to the conflict in Yemen. Speaking to reporters on the plane that took him to Saudi Arabia, he stated, “Regarding the conflict, our main objective…is to reach negotiations sponsored by the United Nations to find a political solution as soon as possible.”
Part of these efforts include cooperating with allies and using the United Nations to reach the negotiation table. Yemen is a key area of concern for the Saudi, as they lead a coalition in support of the current Yemen president and actively oppose the Houthi opposition.
Evidence has come to light that the Houthis are receiving military support from Iran, including rockets. Mattis said that the rockets fired by the Houthis targeting Saudi Arabia and often leading to the death of people have all the Iranian touchstones on it, adding that “it must stop”.
During his meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the two officials discussed ways to enhance the strategic friendship between these two countries, especially in the area of defense. Saudi Arabia is also taking a lead with Jordan and Egypt in addressing the issue of Syrian refugees.
The two countries also touched on Iran, including its role in Yemen. Saudi-led coalition forces intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles in Yemen. National army forces also seized control of an arms warehouse that belongs to Houthi militias and forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The warehouse contained small, light, and heavy weapons and ammunition.
Battles are still ongoing throughout the country, as various military forces attack militias’ gatherings and pockets in the north, east and west of the country. Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen’s Houthi movement, thus stepping up its support for its Shi’ite ally in a civil war. But it is more than a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is also about another dictator being unwilling to let go of his power, even willing to ally with former enemies in order to advance his power grab. Selah is willing to side with the Houthis to reclaim Yemen.
Still, these two factors are going to be key to deciding the outcome in Yemen, which could be a major part of defining the power balance in the Middle East. Iranian activities have alarmed Sunni Muslim countries who are concerned that Iran’s exporting of Shi’ism could increase the spread of fundamentalism and terrorism.