News analysis: Saleh's death opens door for broader Saudi-Iran conflict in Yemen: analysts

by Fuad Rajeh

SANAA, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- The killing of Yemeni former President Ali Abdullah Saleh by Houthi militants on Monday has opened the door for a broader conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, analysts said.

Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years until protests that erupted during the Arab Spring in 2011 forced him to relinquish power. In late 2014, Saleh allied with the Houthi militants and seized power from the internationally recognized government led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

But the Houthi-Saleh alliance broke down lately with the two sides fighting each other in the capital Sanaa and other regions under their control in the past week. Prior to the armed clashes, both sides were trading accusations over failing the Yemeni people amid a deepening crisis and looking for foreign support.

The murder of Saleh has a different impact on Saudi Arabia and Iran, some analysts said.

Saudi Arabia has lost a card which could help it eradicate the Iranian threat in Yemen. Before his killing, Saleh withdrew from the alliance with the Houthis and welcomed talks with Saudi Arabia on condition that it halts airstrikes and a blockade.

The latest developments, Saleh's murder in particular, will open the door for a broader conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the country, the analysts said.

Nabil Albukiri, a Yemeni researcher in international affairs, said Saudi Arabia is the target of Iran's projects in the region.

"Iran's influence in Yemen poses a serious threat to Saudi national security. Definitely Saudi Arabia will not allow Iran to threaten it," he said.

Saudi Arabia has been bombing the Houthi militants since they seized power with support from forces loyal to Saleh in late 2014. It accuses Iran of providing weapons to the Houthis including ballistic missiles, some of which were fired into Riyadh, the Saudi capital. But Iran and the Houthis have denied the claims.

The future Saudi-Iran conflict in Yemen could be more complicated as both sides are expected to try to attract and lure tribes to fight on behalf of them.

Many pro-Saleh tribes are now expected to either join the legitimate forces or avoid supporting the Houthis.

Yaseen Al-Tamimi, a Yemeni political writer and analyst, said Iran will seek to keep its successes in Yemen.

"I expect Iran to open direct communication channels with the Houthis in order to provide more support to them," Al-Tamimi said.

In response, Saudi Arabia is expected to mobilize and support all forces and political groups opposing the Houthis, he said.

Nevertheless, the murder of Saleh means that Iran has won in Yemen so far, he added.

Faris Al-Beel, a Yemeni political analyst, also said that, after Saleh's death, Iran has now become the main player in Yemen.

"Iran's win will definitely be reflected on the struggle for regional influence. If Saudi Arabia fails to use the murder of Saleh perfectly, Iran will strengthen its presence and threats. No one will defeat it then," Al-Beel said.

A proxy war in Yemen between the two regional powers will only deepen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, such as famine.

Yemen is already facing a grave humanitarian crisis aggravated by a large-scale cholera outbreak. Two thirds of the Yemeni population are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

[ Editor: meng ]


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