Early this month, the US Navy announced it had captured a boat carrying small arms and RPG launchers in the Arabian Sea. USS Sirocco intercepted a dhow which was reported to be sailing from Iran on a course that could have taken it to Yemen, where a Shia insurgency is currently fighting the Saudi-backed Sunni government. By all accounts this was a well-executed intercept operation and fully in accordance with the ship’s orders. The big question is why anyone thinks this is a good idea.
Yemen is one of the poorest and most backwards Arab countries. It doesn’t have much in the way of oil reserves and has only just started exporting natural gas, so most of the population work in agriculture. Apart from two upland areas that get high rainfall by Arabian standards it’s a dry, desert country – parts of it are in the incredibly arid Rub’ al Khali, the infamous Empty Quarter – and the coastal plain is known as the Hot Earth. Most of the country isn’t exactly suited for agriculture, and this is why it’s poor.
It’s also religiously diverse, and in the Middle East that isn’t anything to celebrate. About 40% of Yemenis are Shia muslims; almost all the rest are Sunni. There are also up to 41,000 Christians and around 50 Jews. The Sunnis, who dominate the government, don’t like the Jews and Christians much – but they really hate the Shia. So, as usually happens anywhere in the Middle East when a country has a mix of religions, there’s a civil war going on.
It’s a confusing civil war. The Sunni government hates the Shia, which sparked off the Houthi Rebellion. The Houthis are mostly North Yemen Shia, from sects that preach a more tolerant version of islam. The government, and their Wahhabi allies in Saudi Arabia, don’t really tolerance, so in 2004 they cracked down on the Shia – who promptly rebelled.
Then again some nutbags thought the government hadn’t cracked down hard enough, so there’s a third player in the rebellion – Ansar al-Sharia, a local offshoot of al Qaida. Both Ansar and the Houthis are fighting the Yemeni government, but they’re also fighting each other. Ansar want Yemen to be a more theocratic state run according to a stricter, purer form of Sunni islam; the Houthis want increased religious freedom. And Iran is backing the Houthis.
Personally I don’t care much what happens in Yemen. It would be nice if it evolved into a secular democracy where people can follow whatever religion they like – or none, if they prefer – without being persecuted. But this is the Middle East, so that isn’t going to happen. I really don’t think helping Saudi Arabia put down the Houthis is a good idea, though. Apart from anything else, if Wahhabi nutters are being shot by the Houthi in Yemen, they’re not joining ISIS in Syria or trying to infiltrate the west to carry out another atrocity. So if Iran wants to ship a few thousand rusty old AKs to Yemen’s Shia rebels, why not just let them? It’s not going to harm us, and when it comes to Middle Eastern politics that’s about the best result you can hope for.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.