Nussaibah Younis writes: Saudi Arabian air strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been touted as the latest escalation in a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. As the two countries continue to train, finance and equip rival militants in the Syrian civil war, and to support opposing sides in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Yemen, fears have been raised about where this now-militarised regional rivalry could go.
But talk of a proxy war risks over-estimating the level of power Saudi Arabia and Iran wield, and overlooking the local actors who truly shape the conflicts in question. The Houthi movement has been able to advance across Yemen largely because of its alliance with the ancien régime of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and because of its ability to tap into disillusionment with the poor performance of the Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi government. Though Iran may have helped to hone the effectiveness of the Houthi movement, it is neither the cause of nor a major player in the emerging Yemeni civil war.
That reality, however, is lost on a Saudi Arabia that is so fearful of Iran’s mounting influence in the region that it has instigated air strikes that are more likely to exacerbate than to resolve the conflict in neighbouring Yemen. [Continue reading…]