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Is the Yemen Crisis Pushing West Asia close to a Wider Regional Conflict

The political crisis in Yemen is hurling West Asia precariously close toward a wider regional conflict, which many observers had warned might emanate from the unrest triggered by the so-called Arab Spring.

Several countries of the region are now getting involved in the crisis following Saudi Arabia’s launch of the offensive called “Operation Decisive Storm”. In addition to the five GCC allies of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and even Sudan have extended military support to Riyadh’s campaign to reverse the Houthis takeover of government in Sanaa.

Even Turkish President Recept Tayyep Erdogan has denounced Iran as a source of “annoyance”. But perhaps the biggest surprise has been the reported inclusion of Pakistan (which has a substantial Shiite population) in this pro-Sunni alliance.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran for funding and arming the Shiite-Houthi insurgency in Yemen, which took over the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, a few months ago.

The cause for the recent Saudi intervention has been the advance of Houthi forces to Yemen’s port city of Aden, where the country’s president Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi is residing after his ouster.

This non-UN backed multilateral military action launched by the Saudi government has received US support, wich is ostenbly aimed at reducing growing Iranian influence in the neighborhood  of Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis are of the Zaidi sect in Shiite Islam, who had risen up against former Yemeni president Abdullah Saleh and after his ouster felt left out in the transitional government that followed his rule. Thus, the failure of the transitional government, instituted by mediation of Gulf states, in meeting Houthi aspirations then reignited the insurgency.

The Houthi insurgency is not the only cause of concern in Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) has started its insurgency in southeast of the country in league with another Sunni extremist group, the Ansar Al-Sharia.

The threat of war has raised concerns over the security of oil supplies through the Bab al-Mandab shipping lane. More than 3.4 million barrels of oil per day is said to pass through Bab el-Mandeb.

In addition, if Iran decides to intervene in the conflict then there are fears that a wider sectarian conflagration between Sunnis and Shiites would engulf the region, with unforeseen consequences for global security.

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