Saudi Arabia has launched air strikes in Yemen in a coalition with Gulf region allies. The military action is in response to an advance by Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi rebels who have surrounded Yemen’s second city of Aden.
On Wednesday the rebels seized an airbase and Aden’s international airport as they tightened their grip on the city.
Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, explained why his country thought the the military operation was justified: “We will do whatever it takes in order to protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling and from facing any dangers from outside militia. We have a situation where you have a militia group that is now in control or can be in control of ballistic missiles, of heavy weapons, and of an air force.”
Over the past year the rebels have fought their way out of their northern strongholds and worked their way south towards Aden, which is Yemen’s economic hub. It’s there that the president has been holed up since fleeing the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa last month.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has recently called on his allies for help. Up to ten countries appear to be responding including the US with logistical and intelligence support.
According to al Arabiya television, Saudi Arabia is contributing 100 warplanes and 150,000 soldiers to the military operation. The broadcaster said planes from Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain are also taking part, and Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Sudan are also said to be ready to participate.
Yemen’s turmoil has made the country a crucial front in mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Shi’ite Iran.
The situation in Yemen has provided ammunition for President Obama’s Republican critics: