Yemen isn’t on the brink anymore — it’s gone over the edge

The situation in Yemen has been teetering on the brink of civil war for a while now, and it’s still there today, we’re being told. The truth is, though, that the events of this past weekend looked a heck of a lot more like “actual civil war” than “the brink of a civil war.” On Friday, suicide bombers struck two predominantly Shiʿa mosques in Sanaa and killed at least 137 worshipers. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, though I think it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not exactly clear what that means. Like the Tunisia museum attack, this could have been an operation planned by ISIS in Raqqa and relayed to operatives in Yemen, or it could have been carried out autonomously by locals who have pledged themselves to ISIS, or it could just be ISIS claiming credit for whatever happens (my money would be on door #2 here). It’s also worth noting that the Coke to ISIS’s terror Pepsi, Al Qaeda (in this case Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), actually condemned the bombings, because Al Qaeda, as a rule, tends to shun attacks on purely civilian targets (AQAP has been known to publicly apologize for similar attacks in the past). The lone exception to this policy in the AQ world was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was internally criticized for its attacks on civilians (particularly Shiʿa civilians) and, lo and behold, eventually broke away and became ISIS.

Partially (one assumes) in response to the Sanaa bombings, on Saturday the Houthi leadership issued what amounted to a declaration of war against anyone supporting current/former/would-be Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is trying to run the southern part of the country (the part the Houthis don’t control) from Aden. They did this even though ISIS, and AQAP, aren’t in any way supporting Hadi, but, hey, they’re all Sunni, and in a crisis that has completely fractured Yemen along sectarian lines, this was just the obvious next step. Lumping Hadi in with ISIS and AQAP makes it easier for the Houthis to draw in more Iranian support, which will be countered by Saudi support for Hadi (and maybe for the jihadis too, wink wink), and so, just like Syria, you’re looking at a local fight that’s being co-opted into a jolly little proxy war between the Gulf’s two heavyweights, overlaid with enough sectarian enmity to keep things interesting. And, just like Syria, if things continue to deteriorate it could make Yemen an ideal place in which a group like ISIS (to say nothing of AQAP) can take root and begin to grow (see also: Libya, which maybe we’ll talk about later this week).

The Houthi call to arms kicked off yesterday, as their fighters seized the airport in the southern city of Taʿizz (or Taiz), which in addition to being an important city in its own right is less than 200 kilometers from Aden, where Hadi has set up shop. Meanwhile, on Saturday AQAP reportedly seized the town of Hutah, to the east. All this instability was deemed enough of a threat to the US drone operation at Al-Annad Air Base that the Pentagon has now evacuated 100 special operations soldiers from the country. All of that in one weekend. So, yeah, I’m having a hard time figuring out how Yemen is still “on the brink.”


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