Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 13-Sep-2009
Escalating civil war in Yemen threatens to pull in Iran, Saudi Arabia and U.S.

Web Log - September, 2009

Escalating civil war in Yemen threatens to pull in Iran, Saudi Arabia and U.S.

Last week, President Obama said we would help Yemen in its "fight against terrorism," in a letter delivered to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. If this commitment is followed through, it would involve the U.S. in Yemen's civil war.

Yemen.  Fighting is increasing in the northern Saada province, and displaced refugees are nearing the nation's capital, Sana'a. <font size=-2>(Source: CIA Fact Book / Economist)</font>
Yemen. Fighting is increasing in the northern Saada province, and displaced refugees are nearing the nation's capital, Sana'a. (Source: CIA Fact Book / Economist)

The promise was given because the civil war is escalating, and is threatening the stability of the Yemen's government. Yemen has enormous strategic importance because it borders on the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Shipping in these seas is already suffering because of pirates based in Somalia, and the collapse of Yemen's government could provide additional bases for pirates.

The fighting is between tribesmen loyal to the Shia Muslim Houthi family, a powerful northern clan, versus the Sunni Muslim government's army. The fighting has been going on mostly in the Saada province, but hundreds of thousands of refugees have been forced to move south, and are now within 30 miles of the nation's capital, Sana'a.

This situation has already reached humanitarian crisis proportions, according to the United Nations, while a $23 million emergency appeal for humanitarian funds launched nine days ago has not yet received a single cent.

Tribal warfare has been going on in Yemen for centuries, and reached a peak in the early 1920s with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It's now growing into a new peak, thanks to the tribal identification with wider groups: the Shia Muslims of Iran and the Sunni Muslims of Saudi Arabia. As I've written many times in the past, the Mideast is headed for a Sunni vs Shia war in the next few years with certainty.

As if that weren't enough problems for the Yemen government, the al-Qaeda terrorist group has been establishing bases in Yemen.

The Saudi and Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda have merged, earlier this year, to form a single organization, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The instability in Yemen has given AQAP a sanctuary for bases in Yemen. AQAP has been conducting terrorist attacks, and last month the region was shocked when an AQAP suicide bomber almost succeeded in killing Saudi Arabia's security chief, and a prominent member of the Saudi royal family.

AQAP is also fighting the Yemen government with terrorist attacks, but in a version of the old Arab saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Sunni terrorist group is not supporting the Shia Houthi rebels. However, according to Iran, Saudi Arabia is supporting the conflict against the Houthis, and are even using some segments of al-Qaeda as part of the crackdown.

On the other side, Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh said in a recent interview that "Security forces have seized two cells whose members acknowledged that they received some $100 thousand from some destinations in Iran," although he didn't accuse Iran's government directly. He added that Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia cleric in Iraq who played a big part in Iraq's past sectarian violence, is also supporting the Houthi rebels.

In 2006, I discussed the Shia Muslim belief of the coming of the Mahdi in "Iran and Ahmadinejad are waiting for the Mahdi," something that's roughly equivalent to waiting for the second coming of Christ in the Christian religion.

According to Najeeb Ghallab, a Yemeni scholar, "Iran has strategic goals in this regard, and the Iranians believe an army will come from Yemen to support the long-awaited 12th imam, the Mahdi. Any threat to the Yemeni state will also threaten Saudi Arabia, the only force that can confront Iran. Iran therefore has an interest in promoting threats to Yemen."

Thus, instead of a local tribal war, what we're seeing is the beginning of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are bitter enemies and who are competing for hegemony in the Middle East.

On top of everything else, let's not forget to mention that there's a southern Yemen secessionist movement. South Yemen has historically been separate from North Yemen, and this secessionist movement is gaining strength because Yemen's army and security forces are embroiled in the war with the Houthis.

I usually end discussions of this type by saying that this war might escalate, or it might fizzle or lead to nothing. But in this case, it's hard to see how it would fizzle.

The Yemen government is facing a Houthi rebellion and humanitarian crisis, terrorist acts by al-Qaeda, and a southern secessionist movement. All three of these elements are going to increase.

The only question remaining is whether Yemen's civil war will expand into a larger regional war and, if so, when.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Yemen thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.) (13-Sep-2009) Permanent Link
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail
Donate to Generational Dynamics via PayPal

Web Log Pages

Current Web Log

Web Log Summary - 2016
Web Log Summary - 2015
Web Log Summary - 2014
Web Log Summary - 2013
Web Log Summary - 2012
Web Log Summary - 2011
Web Log Summary - 2010
Web Log Summary - 2009
Web Log Summary - 2008
Web Log Summary - 2007
Web Log Summary - 2006
Web Log Summary - 2005
Web Log Summary - 2004

Web Log - December, 2016
Web Log - November, 2016
Web Log - October, 2016
Web Log - September, 2016
Web Log - August, 2016
Web Log - July, 2016
Web Log - June, 2016
Web Log - May, 2016
Web Log - April, 2016
Web Log - March, 2016
Web Log - February, 2016
Web Log - January, 2016
Web Log - December, 2015
Web Log - November, 2015
Web Log - October, 2015
Web Log - September, 2015
Web Log - August, 2015
Web Log - July, 2015
Web Log - June, 2015
Web Log - May, 2015
Web Log - April, 2015
Web Log - March, 2015
Web Log - February, 2015
Web Log - January, 2015
Web Log - December, 2014
Web Log - November, 2014
Web Log - October, 2014
Web Log - September, 2014
Web Log - August, 2014
Web Log - July, 2014
Web Log - June, 2014
Web Log - May, 2014
Web Log - April, 2014
Web Log - March, 2014
Web Log - February, 2014
Web Log - January, 2014
Web Log - December, 2013
Web Log - November, 2013
Web Log - October, 2013
Web Log - September, 2013
Web Log - August, 2013
Web Log - July, 2013
Web Log - June, 2013
Web Log - May, 2013
Web Log - April, 2013
Web Log - March, 2013
Web Log - February, 2013
Web Log - January, 2013
Web Log - December, 2012
Web Log - November, 2012
Web Log - October, 2012
Web Log - September, 2012
Web Log - August, 2012
Web Log - July, 2012
Web Log - June, 2012
Web Log - May, 2012
Web Log - April, 2012
Web Log - March, 2012
Web Log - February, 2012
Web Log - January, 2012
Web Log - December, 2011
Web Log - November, 2011
Web Log - October, 2011
Web Log - September, 2011
Web Log - August, 2011
Web Log - July, 2011
Web Log - June, 2011
Web Log - May, 2011
Web Log - April, 2011
Web Log - March, 2011
Web Log - February, 2011
Web Log - January, 2011
Web Log - December, 2010
Web Log - November, 2010
Web Log - October, 2010
Web Log - September, 2010
Web Log - August, 2010
Web Log - July, 2010
Web Log - June, 2010
Web Log - May, 2010
Web Log - April, 2010
Web Log - March, 2010
Web Log - February, 2010
Web Log - January, 2010
Web Log - December, 2009
Web Log - November, 2009
Web Log - October, 2009
Web Log - September, 2009
Web Log - August, 2009
Web Log - July, 2009
Web Log - June, 2009
Web Log - May, 2009
Web Log - April, 2009
Web Log - March, 2009
Web Log - February, 2009
Web Log - January, 2009
Web Log - December, 2008
Web Log - November, 2008
Web Log - October, 2008
Web Log - September, 2008
Web Log - August, 2008
Web Log - July, 2008
Web Log - June, 2008
Web Log - May, 2008
Web Log - April, 2008
Web Log - March, 2008
Web Log - February, 2008
Web Log - January, 2008
Web Log - December, 2007
Web Log - November, 2007
Web Log - October, 2007
Web Log - September, 2007
Web Log - August, 2007
Web Log - July, 2007
Web Log - June, 2007
Web Log - May, 2007
Web Log - April, 2007
Web Log - March, 2007
Web Log - February, 2007
Web Log - January, 2007
Web Log - December, 2006
Web Log - November, 2006
Web Log - October, 2006
Web Log - September, 2006
Web Log - August, 2006
Web Log - July, 2006
Web Log - June, 2006
Web Log - May, 2006
Web Log - April, 2006
Web Log - March, 2006
Web Log - February, 2006
Web Log - January, 2006
Web Log - December, 2005
Web Log - November, 2005
Web Log - October, 2005
Web Log - September, 2005
Web Log - August, 2005
Web Log - July, 2005
Web Log - June, 2005
Web Log - May, 2005
Web Log - April, 2005
Web Log - March, 2005
Web Log - February, 2005
Web Log - January, 2005
Web Log - December, 2004
Web Log - November, 2004
Web Log - October, 2004
Web Log - September, 2004
Web Log - August, 2004
Web Log - July, 2004
Web Log - June, 2004

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.