Serious concern about worsening Mideast turmoil due to Yemen civil war – Chicago Tribune

The following editorial appeared in Sunday’s Yomiuri Shimbun:

No prospects are yet in sight for curbing the spread of turmoil throughout the Middle East as one government after another fails in the region. This is a deeply worrying situation.

Civil war has continued to intensify in Yemen, which is located at the southern extremity of the Arabian Peninsula. After the Shiite Muslim rebel militants known as the Houthis ousted Yemeni President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a Sunni adherent, in a coup in early February, the major rival powers in the Mideast have pitted themselves against each other in support of Yemen’s warring groups.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. Civilian casualties from the conflict have been increasing, disease has spread and shortages of water, food, medicine and electricity have become serious. Efforts are needed to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

The conflict was triggered by the Houthis attempting to topple the government due to their dissatisfaction with the administration of President Hadi. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down after 33 years of dictatorial rule in 2012 because of growing movements for democratization, has joined hands with the Houthis, as he still has a strong grip on many Yemeni military officers.

Hadi has found de facto asylum in neighboring Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power, but forces supporting Hadi have continued to resist in the southern region of Yemen.

Major Shiite power Iran has been heightening its intervention in the strife, dispatching naval vessels to the Gulf of Aden and throwing its military support behind the Houthis.

Alarmed by the possibility of Iran expanding its influence, Riyadh started airstrikes late in March against Houthi strongholds in cooperation with nine other Sunni countries, including Egypt, at Hadi’s request. The heads of Arab League countries have subsequently agreed to create a joint Arab military force comprising about 40,000 troops in support of the Yemeni president.

U.S. involvement shrinking

The situation must be prevented by all means from leading to the destabilization of the Middle East as a whole, with the sectarian conflict among Muslims deepening and the fighting devolving into a full-fledged proxy war among regional powers.

Yemen has oilfields and pipelines, and sits along a key sea lane linking the Suez Canal, Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The escalating conflict could adversely affect the global distribution of goods and crude oil markets.

About 1,600 Japan-related ships pass through the Gulf of Aden annually, while escort and patrol vessels of the Maritime Self-Defense Force are engaged in operations to clamp down on piracy there. Japan cannot be indifferent to what happens in the gulf.

Concern is also growing over the spread of terrorist acts.

The possibility cannot be ruled out that the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – which claimed responsibility for suicide bombings on two mosques in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa – could intensify its terrorist actions in Yemen.

Although the United States until recently established sites in Yemen to carry out assaults using drones on Al-Qaida-linked insurgents, Washington has now pulled them out because of the civil war. The United States currently limits its operations only to such objectives as providing Saudi Arabia and its coalition forces with relevant information and weapons.

The U.S. action can be seen as stemming more or less from consideration for Iran, with which Washington is eager to clinch a final agreement on Tehran’s nuclear development problem by the end of June.

Given that the United States’ influence has been on the decline, there is little hope of resolving the Yemen crisis without efforts by the regional powers, and parties concerned in the civil war, to find a way to hold dialogue and stabilize the region.

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

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