Yemen is embroiled in a bitter civil war between Houthi forces, who have captured the capital Sanaa, and troops loyal to the President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The conflict has repercussions far beyond Yemen’s borders because of its religious divide between Sunnis and Shias, its critical position in the Gulf, as well as the presence of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Sunni Muslim countries have begun airstrikes against the Houthi forces and Riyadh is offering a safe haven to President Hadi, while Iran is backing the Houthis.
In the texts below, euronews’ regional experts offer their own short summaries of how the conflict is being perceived in Tehran, Riyadh, Ankara, Brussels and Washington.
The Houthis are a Shi’ite group benefiting from long term support from Tehran – although military assistance is officially denied – so it is important for Iran to see them gain power. Iran regards Yemen as a key strategic country in the region, over which it wants to exercise its political influence.
Iran’s government says that what is going in Yemen is a part of the country’s internal crisis and should be settled through dialogue. It portrays the Houthis as a strong group that enjoys massive public support and therefore argues that a military assault against them is a strategic mistake.
Saudi Arabia’s recent airstrikes on the Houthi forces are seen in Iran as a remarkable development in the proxy war that has been going on between the two countries. The suspicion is that the show of strength is linked to Iran’s recent military operations in Iraq to support Shi’ite militias and push back ISIS forces.By Hossein Alavi, Persian digital editor
Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the Gulf
Riyadh announced on March 26 that it and nine other Sunni Muslim countries had begun airstrikes against the Shi’ite Houthi militia, who control the capital Sanaa in conjunction with forces loyal to former president Ali Saleh
Saudi Arabia’s campaign to stop the Houthis from ruling over Yemen could define its role in the Middle East for years and shape its regional struggle with the rebels’ ally Iran.
Saudi Arabia and its allies see the situation in Yemen as the latest manifestation of the expansionist ambitions of its arch rival in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain.
Iran’s leadership and the majority of its people follow the Shi’ite branch of Islam, while most of the other regional powers mainly follow Sunni teachings.
The new alliance between two former enemies aims to control all of Yemen and its success has pushed the Arab coalition to intervene to ensure the Bab el Mandeb strait, controlling access to the Red Sea and Suez Canal, does not fall into unfriendly hands.
Turkey, a Sunni-majority country, has announced its support to the Saudi-led fight against Houthi forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is due to visit Tehran in early April, accuses Iran of trying to dominate the Middle East.
“Should this be allowed? This has begun troubling us, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. It is really not tolerable and Iran has to see this,” Erdogan said in a press conference.
The Turkish view is that the conflict has evolved into a sectarian one, which is being fueled by Iran, as part of a series of destabilising actions that also encompass involvement in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Ankara has said it will give logistical support to the Arab coalition’s operation against the Houthis and is willing to pay the price in political and commercial relations with Iran which had been improving in recent years.
‘Military action is not a solution’ to the crisis in Yemen, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said last week in a half-open answer to the Saudi-led intervention in the country. She added that the use of force would be likely to increase dramatically ‘the ability of extremist and terrorist groups to take advantage of the situation’. In short: there is no solution but a negotiated one.
For now, the level of the rhetoric does not suggest that the European Union leadership considers the Yemen crisis as a major threat, unlike Syria and increasingly Libya, two countries in the direct neighborhood of the EU.
However, even if the threat of radicalised and well trained fighters coming back to Europe from Yemen seems less immediate, officials in Brussels will consider how Al-Qaida in Yemen claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January.
And as European negotiators – alongside their US, Russian and Chinese colleagues – are rushing to meet the deadline for solving the nuclear question with their counterparts from Iran, a conflict that increasingly looks like a direct confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran comes at the worst thinkable moment.
However, for the moment, the EU approach is best expressed as ‘wait and see’.
In the United States, the deteriorating situation in Yemen is playing to the narrative of a wide arch of countries in the greater Middle East that is broken, dysfunctional and “hopeless”.
In the domestic political arena, it has quickly become another battle between the Obama administration and the Republican-led Congress over the right approach towards ISIS, Iran, Libya and even the draw down of US military forces from Afghanistan.
Coming back to haunt Obama is his assessment of a few months ago that Yemen has been a successful example of his administration’s counter-terrorism strategy.
He indirectly alluded to the US campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which is largely conducted by drones and so secret that no administration spokesperson would ever confirm that it exists.
Despite the collapsing government structure in Yemen, Washington just last week reiterated its point of view that the US continues to “enjoy the benefits of a sustained counter-terrorism security relationship with the security infrastructure that remains in Yemen”.
But in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election primaries, critics say that the White House is looking increasingly detached from events in the Middle East.
Over the weekend, the administration shot back. If Republicans really want US ground forces to fight in Yemen, Syria and Libya, re-invade Iraq and conduct another troop “surge” in Afghanistan, then they should openly say so, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on a Sunday political talk show.
So far, neither Senator Ted Cruz, the only declared Republican presidential candidate, nor any of the dozen or so possible contenders have done so.By Stefan Grobe, Washington correspondent