Tensions rise between Saudi Arabia and Iran

By: Erica Lampert ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of bbc.com | The attacks in Yemen are a result of escalated tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and Houthi rebels control Sanaa.

The Arabian country Yemen has become the scene of the Middle East’s second proxy war, which has caused concern in the U.S. about the growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Renewed tensions between the countries led to the execution of 47 people on Jan. 2., adding to the already 6,000 killed since March 2015.

More killings occurred Jan. 8 when an airstrike hit near the Iranian embassy in Sanaa. Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a spiraling regional showdown, and more countries like Yemen could suffer. The airstrike occurred moments after Riyadh’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, which caused protesters in Shiitemajority Iran to attack the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

“It was almost inevitable that this (the severing of diplomatic relations) would follow, especially since the response from Iran, completely expectedly, was full of rage, and Iran’s supreme leader essentially summoned the wrath of God against Saudi Arabia,” Bobby Ghosh, a CNN global affairs analyst and managing editor of Quartz, said.

The fighting in Yemen has already begun to intensify with the bombing of Sanaa being the heaviest to date, according to residents of the capital. Any peace talks that were scheduled to happen this week between the two countries are now being postponed.

“This is a war one year ago you could have — maybe one and a half year ago to be accurate — you could have solved it domestically,” Farea Al-Muslimi, a Yemeni analyst and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said. “But right now, even if all Yemenis come to one table and say ‘We want peace’ the decision is no longer in their hands.”

The Saudi-Iran feud jeopardizes U.S. efforts against ISIS and is causing tension regarding the U.S.’s role in the Middle East. The increasing rivalry has led Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain to become involved and has left other nations to pick sides.

Russia and China are trying to stay neutral in the situation. Both countries reportedly hope that all of the parties involved can practice restraint and calmly negotiate to resolve their differences and maintain peace and stability in the region.

Some Yemenis see their country as increasingly engulfed by a confrontation between the two regional powers.

“For peace to possibly exist in Yemen, it will have to get the consensus of at least Saudi Arabia and Iran,” Al-Muslimi said. This conflict began as a civil war proceeding Yemen’s 2011 pro-democracy uprising. It has now gained international attention, as civilian deaths have reached new highs. The war in Yemen began in the turmoil spawned by a popular uprising in 2011 against Ali Abdullah Saleh, a U.S. and Saudi-backed autocrat.

Saleh left in 2011 in accordance with a transition plan, and his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, succeeded him in 2012. The Houthis, a rebel group which opposed the first president, also opposed this agreement and overran Sanaa on March 25, 2015, causing Hadi to flee the country. Backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia launched attacks in Yemen the day after Hadi’s flee leading to nine months of war and more than 2,800 civilian casualties.

Iranian support for the Houthis, according to officials cited by Reuters, is reported to include money and weapons. The amount of aid given to the Houthis is still in question, leading to conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

“If Saudi suddenly stops supporting Hadi, how long does he have in power? Maybe a few days? A few weeks maximum, but if the Iranians stop supporting the Houthis, I think they’ve got at least a few years in power,” Al- Muslimi said. “They’re a group that you cannot ultimately deny their local roots.”

In Yemen, the two rivals occupy the opposite of the roles they play in Syria, where Iran backs the regime and the Saudis support some rebel groups.