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How the war in Yemen connects to Saudi Arabia and Iran

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Months after an Iran-aligned rebel movement took control of Yemen’s capital in 2014, Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition and unleashed a barrage of bombs aimed at repelling the rebels at home in the mountains.

It did not work.

Instead, it sparked a cycle of escalating violence that has severely damaged Yemen’s cities and killed countless civilians while creating new threats to global oil supplies and maritime traffic around the Arabian Peninsula. .

Seven years later, victory for Saudi Arabia, which receives significant military aid from the United States, remains elusive. Now the kingdom is seeking a way out of the war by backing a ceasefire and a new presidential council to lead the Yemeni government, announced Thursday.

Here’s a look back at how the war has descended into a crushing stalemate that has shattered communities, sent starving children to exhausted hospitals and spread diseases such as cholera across Yemen in what United Nations officials United have considered one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The conflict began as a civil war in 2014, when the Houthis, seeking to take control of the country, seized control of the northwest and the capital, Sana, sending the government into exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition quickly intervened, but the Houthis stayed put as coalition bombs fell, often killing civilians and destroying factories and infrastructure in what was already the poorest country in the world. Arab World.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, have also backed various Yemeni fighting groups to fight the Houthis.

From the start, the coalition heavily shelled Sa’ada province, the Houthis’ ancestral homeland, embittered its residents and paved the way for accusations that it was committing war crimes by failing to differentiate between civilian and military targets. .

Elsewhere, Saudi bombs repeatedly fell on civilian gatherings, including weddings. An attack on a high-profile funeral in Sana in 2016 killed more than 100 people, including political figures who could have helped bridge the gaps between Yemenis to end the war.

This and other strikes made the war extremely unpopular in Washington and other Western capitals whose governments had sold the Saudis many weapons used to kill civilians.

The Saudis and their allies said they had adopted protocols to ensure better targeting.

But in 2018, they blew up a school bus, killing at least 44 people, mostly young boys on field trips. This renewed the question of whether the Saudi Air Force had poor targeting skills or simply did not care enough to take the necessary precautions.

The harshness of the bombing campaign and the imposition of a blockade that has hampered the economy and left more Yemenis dependent on limited international aid have made the Saudis deeply unpopular in parts of the country and increased support for the idea of ​​the Houthis that they were fighting an unjust aggression.

“First they gave them high morals by attacking civilians, then they allowed the Houthis to recruit by applying economic sanctions that impoverished the population and made enlistment in the Houthi forces the only option for survival. “, said Abdulghani Al-Iryani. , senior researcher at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies.

Iran, the Saudis’ regional foe, had relations with the Houthis before the war but dramatically increased military aid to the movement after the fighting began.

It was a win-win for the anti-Saudi team.

The Houthis needed help to retaliate against a much wealthier and better equipped enemy, and Iran found a new way to threaten Saudi Arabia and weaken its defenses without directly attacking the kingdom.

Over time, the Houthis have moved from targeting points along the Saudi border with short-range missiles to targeting the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with large ballistic missiles as well as using explosive drones to attack Saudi oil installations deep within the kingdom.

“When we talk about the Houthi movement, the biggest inflection is the military capacity, which has allowed them to have an outsized effect on the region and put them in the position where they are peacekeepers in Yemen,” said said Katherine Zimmerman. , Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

Saudi officials have argued they have no choice but to fight the Houthis and often ask what the United States would do if a violent militia took over territory across its border and began firing missiles at American cities. Wouldn’t he bomb them too?

The Houthis are also accused of committing war crimes, including the use of child soldiers, and they rule their regions with an iron fist that leaves no room for disagreement with their policies.

The Yemeni government’s new presidential council, announced on Thursday and backed by the Saudis, is expected to hold peace talks with the Houthis, and a two-month ceasefire that took effect on Saturday could also open negotiations. Both indicate that Saudi Arabia is stepping up its efforts to find a way out of the war.

But some analysts question whether the Houthis want to end a war that has extended their power so much and is costing Saudi Arabia so much.

“It’s expensive for the Saudis, and it’s certainly more expensive for them than for their enemy, which is always a problem, even if you’re rich,” Ms Zimmerman said.


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