Reuters reports: Saudi Arabia is moving heavy military equipment including artillery to areas near its border with Yemen, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, raising the risk that the Middle East’s top oil power will be drawn into the worsening Yemeni conflict.
The buildup follows a southward advance by Iranian-backed Houthi Shi’ite militants who took control of the capital Sanaa in September and seized the central city of Taiz at the weekend as they move closer to the new southern base of U.S.-supported President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The slide toward war in Yemen has made the country a crucial front in Saudi Arabia’s region-wide rivalry with Iran, which Riyadh accuses of sowing sectarian strife through its support for the Houthis.
The conflict risks spiraling into a proxy war with Shi’ite Iran backing the Houthis, whose leaders adhere to the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam, and Saudi Arabia and the other regional Sunni Muslim monarchies backing Hadi.
The armor and artillery being moved by Saudi Arabia could be used for offensive or defensive purposes, two U.S. government sources said. Two other U.S. officials said the build-up appeared to be defensive.
One U.S. government source described the size of the Saudi buildup on Yemen’s border as “significant” and said the Saudis could be preparing air strikes to defend Hadi if the Houthis attack his refuge in the southern seaport of Aden. [Continue reading…]