The straw that broke the camel’s back was the rebels’ failure to hand over one of the president’s senior aides, who had been snatched over the weekend and whose release was a key provision in the deal. The collective resignation came after days of turmoil in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, where rebels stormed the presidential palace and then bombarded and surrounded the house [President Abdu Rabu Mansour] Hadi had taken refuge in. …
The stage now seems set for the outbreak of full-fledged sectarian civil war, one that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror network’s most dangerous and capable affiliate, is likely to exploit for its advantage.
Adam Baron delves further into the chaos:
In the formerly independent South, longstanding calls for secession have grown even louder. Across the country, frustration seems mounting – both at the country’s power brokers and at the international actors that, until recently, had hailed the country’s political process as a model transition to democracy.
The next few days will unquestionably be crucial. At writing time, Houthi fighters reportedly have the homes of many members of the now-resigned cabinet under siege. All eyes are set on Sunday’s meeting of the two houses of the Yemeni parliament, which could very well reject the president’s resignation, sending the country into further uncertainty. Indeed, little remains clear at the moment, except for the fact that the country is likely facing its most crucial juncture since the overthrow of the Mutawakkilite Monarchy on 26 September, 1962.
Nader Udowski points at Iran:
[I]t is not clear if the Huthis can be regarded as an Iranian proxy in the same way as Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. But they now depend on Iran to solidify their position in the country’s capital.
Events in Sanaa could most likely send the country into a full-fledged civil war, threatening a Syria-like disintegration of Yemen with different sects, tribes and groups fighting each other. The Zaydis, now in power in Sanaa, constitute only a third of Yemen’s population of 24 million, which is majority Sunni Muslim, in a predominantly tribal society. The Quds Force is expected to implement its successful Syrian and Iraqi tactics in Yemen: significant arms shipment; financial assistance; deployment of advisers and senior officers; providing training and strategic planning; and transforming some 50,000-strong Huthi fighting force into semi-official Shia militia to take the lead in military and security operations in the coming civil war.
But Bruce Riedel points out “the Zaydis are not Iranian pawns nor partners like Hezbollah. They are an independent force”, and Jeremy Scahill and Casey L. Coombs remind that Iran is a routine boogeyman in the region:
For years, the Yemeni government attempted to inflate Iran’s influence over the Houthis in the hopes of winning U.S. permission to use counterterrorism funds and assistance to fight the Houthis. According to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, senior Bush administration officials consistently rebuffed such requests from the Yemeni government, saying the U.S. government saw the battle against the Houthis as a domestic issue.
Complicating things further, Adam Taylor argues that the conflict isn’t so easily defined along sectarian lines:
Analysts say that the popular appeal of the Houthi insurgency can’t entirely be put down to sectarian factors. In a 2010 RAND Corporation report, the authors noted that “it is a conflict in which local material discontent and Zaydi identity claims have intersected with the state center’s methods of rule and self-legitimation.” That analysis was echoed by Silvana Toska, a Middle East researcher, last year, who noted that the Houthis were supported by “vast numbers of Yemenis who view them as a real opposition to the elites that is untainted by corruption.”
Unsurprisingly, Max Boot believes Obama should have done more to prevent the crisis:
The administration’s policy can be characterized as general lethargy and disengagement punctuated by periodic outbursts of carefully targeted violence. This is a policy that cannot possibly work, and it hasn’t. The administration hasn’t created the chaos that is gripping the Middle East — chaos that is a Petri dish for extremism — but it certainly hasn’t done much to stop it.
But Barbara Slavin reports the US might already be adapting:
[Senior US intelligence official Michael] Vickers, in response to a question from Al-Monitor, stated, “The Houthis are anti al-Qaeda, and we’ve been able to continue some of our counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the past months.” Asked after the public event whether that included lines of intelligence to the Houthis, Vickers said, “That’s a safe assumption.”
She also spoke with Yemen expert Charles Schmitz, who elaborated on the potential for US-Houthi cooperation:
Many observers of the Houthis have been taken aback by their Iranian-style anti-US and anti-Israel slogans, which Schmitz rattled off: “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews and Long Live Islam.” He said the slogans as voiced by the Houthis date to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and their efforts to embarrass then-President Saleh by tarring him as an agent of the United States and Saudi Arabia. In fact, Schmitz said, the Houthis have generally not attacked Americans, although State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed reports that Houthi gunmen at a checkpoint in Sanaa had fired on a US diplomatic vehicle Jan. 19. There were no injuries, she said.
“They are not terrorists,” Schmitz said. He called the Houthis’ backing of US attacks on AQAP “an alliance of convenience.”