Yemen on the Brink: Leader AWOL, Saudis Begin Strikes
Will proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran follow?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 25, 2015 5:38 PM CDT
Updated Mar 25, 2015 7:23 PM CDT
A file photo of Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.   (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

(Newser) – The most common word in reports and headlines out of Yemen today is "chaos." The nation once seen as a vital ally in the fight against al-Qaeda is now on the brink of civil war, with Saudi Arabia launching a military operation and the AP reporting that President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has fled the country by boat. Advancing rebels known as the Houthis had previously forced him to decamp from the capital, Sanaa, to the port city of Aden. The reports of his departure are unconfirmed, but the New York Times observes that if he hasn't already left, it's just a matter of time. Here's a sample of some of the complex dynamics at stake:

  • Saudis vs. Iran: The Houthis are Shiite and backed by Iran, and the prospect of them taking over the country doesn't sit well with the Sunni government of Saudi Arabia. Hence, the AP sees the very real possibility of "a deeply destabilizing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran." This evening, Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf launched airstrikes in the country, with the stated goal to "prevent Yemen from falling into the hands of the Houthis," reports the Washington Post.
  • Houthis vs. al-Qaeda and ISIS: The Houthis seem to have ousted a US-backed president, but they are also sworn enemies of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which "makes them potential allies" in a US-led coalition against the groups, reports the Voice of America.
  • Old president returns? Hadi replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh as president after the Arab Spring revolts, but Yemen's deterioration raises the possibility that Saleh will return, allied with the Houthis, reports al-Jazeera America. Yemen is the fourth country, along with Libya, Syria, and Iraq, to suffer a meltdown after those 2012 revolts, notes the VOA.
  • Bottom line: "The country is now sliding toward a civil war as dangerous as any in the region, with elements of a sectarian feud, a regional proxy conflict, the attempted return of an ousted authoritarian and the expansion of anti-Western extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State eager to capitalize on the chaos," writes David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times.