Saudi Arabian forces, joined by nine other countries, launched a military offensive “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels on Thursday.
The Saudis started with airstrikes and pledged to use 100 war planes and contribute 150,000 soldiers to the newly formed coalition, according to the Saudi TV network Al Arabiya.
The defiant Houthis refused to back down and said they would “fight fire with fire.”
The development is, of course, huge and important, but it can become a little confusing with the news being updated nearly every hour of the day. Therefore, here are some answers to some of the most basic questions you might have on the issue.
Recommended For You: Who Are Houthi Rebels And What’s The Yemen Conflict: A Short Explainer?
What is Saudi Arabia’s conflict with Yemen?
As is the case with any conflict between Muslim countries, there are two theories that help explain the conflict between Saudi Arabia – one of the richest Arab countries – and Yemen, which is probably the poorest.
The religious conflict theory:
Yemen is a Sunni-Muslim majority, a sect of Islam that Saudi Arabia (often strictly) adheres to as well while the Houthi rebels follow a separate branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism – this has been explained in greater detail in a previous post.
The Houthi group has long complained that they have been marginalized and persecuted by Yemen's Saudi-controlled government under President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
After expanding to other parts of the country from the north and northwest due to the political unrest triggered by Arab Spring, the Houthi rebels battled Yemeni forces for control for over a year and finally managed to seize the capital city of Sana’a in September last year.
Since Saudi Arabia cannot tolerate a group it alleges is supported by Iran (a Shia-majority) taking over Yemen – a longtime hotbed for Saudi-backed al Qaeda militants – the Gulf kingdom decided to launch the offensive to restore Hadi’s government.
The political conflict theory:
For many, the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is more land-related or political in nature than religious. Yemen Post, Yemen’s first hourly updated English website, explains the dispute:
“The long-running boundary dispute between Saudi Arabia and Yemen can be traced back to the controversial Mecca Agreement in 1926 under which the territory of the south west Idrisi emirate, long claimed by Yemen, came under the sovereignty of the newly established state of Saudi Arabia.”
“The ensuing dispute over the sovereignty of the former Idrisi territory, comprising of the provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran, led to the brief Saudi-Yemen border war that was concluded in May 1934 with the Treaty of Taif. Yemen recognized Saudi sovereignty over Asir, Jizan and Najran and the boundary line was defined as ‘final and permanent.’”
However, not long after the treaty was signed, its legality was questioned by all Yemeni governments since 1932 who, according to the Yemen Post, “publicly rejected its terms, arguing they were forcibly imposed by Saudi Arabia.”
Yemen then pressed a new border be drawn – a demand which led to conflict. Ultimately, the two countries signed the Jeddah border treaty in 2000, giving Saudis total control over the Asir, Najran, and Jizan. Although Yemenis were promised a lot in return, such as inclusion in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council and restoration of their country’s economy, the promises went unfulfilled.
What is Iran’s reaction to the Saudi campaign?
Contrary to Saudi Arabia claims, Iran denies providing financial aid and training to the Houthi militia in Yemen.
A few hours into the Operation Decisive Storm, the Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the Saudi offensive and its coalition.
In addition, the Iranian state media alleged that the operation was a "U.S.-backed aggression."
“State television broadcast footage of some of the damage, showing dozens of bodies and some wounded people, saying "many Yemeni citizens were killed in the U.S.-backed aggressions in Yemen,’” Reuters reported.
Is The U.S. involved in the Saudi offensive?
Although according to Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, America is not directly involved in the airstrikes, the U.S. is reportedly providing intelligence surveillance.
President Barack Obama authorized logistical and intelligence help in support of Saudi Arabia against Houthi militia, the White House announced late on Wednesday.
"While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support," an official statement said.
“The United States is also closely monitoring threats by the al Qaeda branch in Yemen "and will continue to take action as necessary to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens,” it added.
Who else is fighting alongside Saudi Arabia?
Al Arabiya reports the following countries have pledged war planes and fighter jets for Operation Decisive Storm: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.
While the Saudi news channel claimed that Pakistan and Egypt have offered their naval ships, Newsweek Pakistan clarified a few hours after the airstrikes began that Islamabad had been contacted by Riyadh, but “no decision had been taken yet.”
While uncertainty looms over Yemen, the only person heaving a sigh of relief is President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who reportedly remains in his base in Aden and is “in high spirits” after ally Saudi Arabia stepped in.
"This operation has restored people's determination" to fight the rebels, Mohammed Marem, director of Hadi's office, told Reuters. "The president is in high spirits and thanks Gulf countries, Egypt, Jordan and Sudan and all countries in the region," he said, adding the operation’s main target is the Houthi uprising in the north.
Also, the fact that Iran is allegedly terming the military campaign a “U.S.-backed aggression” may impact the peace negotiations between the two countries.