Yemen-Saudi Arabia Rebel Conflict May Draw in Iran


Yemen-Saudi Arabia Rebel Conflict May Draw in Iran

Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, flew into the Gulf of Aden on Nov. 7 to celebrate the first exports of liquefied natural gas from a sprawling $4.5 billion plant — the biggest ever investment in his otherwise impoverished desert country. A brass band played and politicians applauded the gas tanker as it set sail for South Korea, but Saleh’s attention was elsewhere — on the attacks that Saudi Arabia’s military forces were waging against antigovernment Shi’ite rebels in the north of Yemen. The rebels “are trying to demolish the economy,” Saleh tells TIME, vowing, “We will crush them.”

Low-level skirmishes between the rebels, called Houthis, and Saudi and Yemen forces, have dragged on for five years, and indeed the Saudis claim they successfully cleared the rebels from the border on Sunday. But the conflict has rapidly intensified during the past week, since, according to the Saudis, the Houthis crossed into Saudi Arabia and killed a Saudi officer, leading Saudi Arabia to send fighter jets to bomb Houthi territory on Nov. 5. Suddenly a lingering battle threatens to turn into a wider conflict, potentially drawing in Iran, the region’s biggest Shi’ite power. Saleh says he suspects Iran is already involved. “They want to follow the system of Iran,” he says of the rebels. “It is impossible. Our people are one people.” Using his public speech at the ceremony, Saleh told the crowd, “There will be no compromise or cease-fire until we finish the jihad.”

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