Reports from The New York Times show the U.S. military, by firing on Houthi rebel posts Oct. 13, has officially become militarily involved in the ongoing civil war in Yemen, a conflict some experts call a “proxy war” between Iranian and Shia interests on one side, and the interests of countries like Saudi Arabia on the other.
The stated U.S. position is that Houthi radar positions fired on by an American warship had been used to target the American ship with missile attacks.
By publicly entering the fray, America is, in many ways, acting more deliberately in the interest of its allies. The prior U.S. position had been to aid Saudi Arabia in bombing campaigns in Yemen, while avoiding more direct involvement in campaigns that have been called reckless by some human rights advocates, with a mounting death toll that includes an estimated 4,000 innocent civilians.
“These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway,” Pentagon officials said of the Tomahawk missile strike, in a statement given to The New York Times.
Although there has been a level of coordination between U.S. and Saudi parties regarding the Yemen conflict, some U.S. legislators are pushing back against increased involvement, arguing that there has never been a public discussion of whether to “go to war” there.
In comments Friday, Mahfuz Meherzad spoke to Gulf News Journal about the facts on the ground, and how the recent U.S. actions might play out in Yemen.
“There was a claim that one of the (American) ships was fired upon,” he said. “This has been denied by the rebels -- but the U.S. certainly believes it.”
In a way, Meherzad said, America is acting against the Iranian influence that has precedent in developing extremist sentiments in the region.
“(Iran) attempted to control Syria and Lebanon by proxy,” Meherzad said, adding that the American government wants to avoid a situation where Yemen becomes a breeding ground for terrorism.
However, he believes the U.S. initiative is not likely to change the equation in Yemen significantly.
“They were already involved,” Meherzad said, referring to American support for Saudi action in the past, and suggesting that in some ways, the U.S. just poured fuel on a fire that was already burning. “Yemen is lawless to begin with: the Zaidi Shia (Houthi) and the central government have been at war for a long time.”
He also pointed out that two forces are converging in southern Yemen. First, there are the Houthis concentrated in areas of southern Yemen. Then there are the disaffected southern Yemenis who believe that the biggest gains of the economy and the best positions in government have gone to their northern neighbors.
“The two forces happen to be in the same part of the country,” Meherzad said.
Although Meherzad doesn’t expect the Yemen conflict to escalate wildly in the near future, he also doesn’t see much of a prospect for peace. Citing the long-term roots of the struggle, he expects Yemen to separate into two states in the future.