By: Timothy Aderman
As Yemen’s humanitarian situation spirals downward, Yemeni Houthi rebels fighting President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi have begun escalating attacks on Saudi Arabia in retaliation for Saudi air strikes.
Houthi rebels have launched repeated attacks in and around Najran. Najran sits on the Saudi side of the border and is within range of mortar and rocket fire. Houthi rebels have been denied access to the city as their ground assaults have been stymied by Saudi troops manning border crossings.
However, Houthi rebels’ light artillery have caused civilian deaths and brought fear to the city. These recent probing attacks at Najran demonstrate that Houthi rebels may prove more resilient than first thought.
The civil war between President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s supporters and Houthi rebels has displaced over 16 million civilians in a nation of 26 million. Saudi air strikes have deepened Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and inhibited much needed aid from entering the country.
Saudi Arabia has felt isolated by the U.S. as the world turns its attention to Iranian nuclear talks. Saudi Arabia has sought to reassert itself through a demonstration of military dominance in Yemen. Targeting Houthi rebels is geographically accessible and a safer choice than entering the nearby Syrian war.
Houthi rebels will continue to enjoy sympathy from the larger Shi’ite community from which they draw. Although the conflict in Yemen is not yet a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is clearly a conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite interests.
A protracted conflict between Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia will only worsen the mounting crisis. This will cast a further shadow on Saudi Arabia’s regional reputation that has been hampered by its close relationship with the United States.