Simon Tisdall writes: The brazen attempt by Houthi rebels to sink a US warship patrolling off Yemen marks a potentially significant escalation of a conflict that has been alternately fuelled and ignored by the western powers. The attack by the Houthis, whose main backer is Iran, coincides with an unprecedented ballistic missile strike 325 miles inside Saudi territory and suggests a spreading, region-wide conflagration could be nearer at hand than previously thought.
Insurrection and revolt have been endemic in Yemen since the early part of this century. But the conflict intensified in March last year when Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival, launched a large-scale intervention, backed by a coalition of Arab states.
Since then an estimated 10,000 Yemenis have died and many more have been injured, displaced or have faced famine conditions. The US and Britain back the Saudi coalition and have provided limited practical support such as intelligence-sharing and training, but have eschewed direct involvement in Yemen. The exception is the CIA’s repeated drone strikes, including those against alleged Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists.
As in Syria, the Obama administration has favoured a hands-off approach, preferring to act through proxies rather than engage directly. This diffidence stems from Barack Obama’s fear of the US being sucked into more Middle East wars. It is also the byproduct of his controversial attempt to mend fences with Iran through last year’s landmark nuclear deal. [Continue reading…]