London, April 1, 2015–Much is made of the seemingly proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen. In this scenario, the Saudis are protectors of Sunni (and Arab) survival against a tide of Shiite Iranian (aka, Persian) aggression via its clients in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
This scheme evokes an ancient rivalry that dates to the dawn of Islam when hordes from Arabia rose from the peninsula to confront the Persian empire in the east. Delayed Persian revanchism is somehow the cause of problems in Yemen (and elsewhere in the roiled Middle East). Hence, Saudi bombs Yemen.
But what if the contest is really about local politics in Yemen–Houthi rebels (designated by the Saudis as Iran’s puppets) trying to upend a government from which they were excluded (in an arrangement midwifed by Saudi Arabia)? And what if Saudi Arabia is simply doing its best, as always, to repress nearby movements that don’t accept its dominance?
Here are a pair of articles that try to sort out the regional motives of Saudi intervention and which debunk the commonly summoned framework of a purely Sunni-Shiite rivalry. Note also the quandary for already confused Obama Administration “policy:” the Houthis are fighting al-Qaeda, so which side ought Washington to be on?