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“Yemen is where the real proxy war is going on, and winning the battle in Yemen will help define the balance of power in the Middle East.” -IRANIAN OFFICIAL TO REUTERS, MARCH 22, 2017The outcome of the conflict in Yemen has direct ramifications with the future of the Middle Eastern region because of how it is played into the sectarian dynamics of the region and the indubitable power conflict between the Saudi Arabia (a Sunni majority nation) and Iran (a Shia majority nation) that has taken place inside Yemen. With the formation of two governments inside of Yemen, with both of the factions being viewed as legitimate by their respective supporters, Saudi Arabia is backing a southern government which is based in Aden, and recognized by the international community, and Iran is backing the northern government based in Sana’a. This proxy war being fought between the nations is leading to an interesting dynamic, where, if the nation is fractured into two parts, there would be an Iranian mini-state and Saudi Arabia along the southern border and south Yemen. The growing presence of Iran in Yemen is a notable inflection from how Yemen was completely under the influence of Saudi Arabia.  IRAN: The Houthi movement is based on the Zaidi community, which practices a version of Shiite Islam, and its leadership has shown support for the anti-Israel stance of revolutionary Shiite Iran. The Sunni monarchies in the Gulf argue that the Houthis are backed by Iran. However, there has never been a lot of evidence for concrete support for the rebellion from Iran, despite claims from the Yemeni, US, and Saudi governments that the Houthis have received weapons and other support from Hezbollah and/or the Qods Force, the overseas branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. However, the Houthi movement depends on Iran to support its anti-Western stance.      Zaidi leaders are keen to point out that they do not share the same religious beliefs, and particularly the jurisprudence, as the Twelver Shiites of Iran; Zaidis are considered to be theologically closer to Sunni Islam than other Shiites. Relations of Houthis with Iran were strengthened after their capture of Sana’a. A senior delegation made a lengthy visit to Tehran where he obtained a promise of a year’s worth of oil supplies from Iran. In February 2015 the Yemeni civil aviation authority signed an agreement with its Iranian counterpart to inaugurate four daily flights from Sana’a to Tehran, which is a frequent connection given the normally relatively small contacts between the two capitals.SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia has taken a strong line against the Houthi rebellion, lending military support to the government’s fight against them. The Houthis complain of incursions by Sunni Saudi Arabian forces into their area in support of Yemeni government troops. In November 2010, a group of Houthi rebels entered Saudi territory and killed two Saudi border guards, provoking retaliation, including air strikes. The conflict claimed many lives in 2009 and 2010 and there were as many as 250,000 displaced persons. The fighting died down in early 2011. The Saudis continue to blame the Iranians for the unrest in Yemen and there is still a considerable Saudi force along its southern border, near the Houthis’ strongholds. When the Houthis took over the capital in September, Saudi Arabia suspended its aid to Yemen, which is heavily dependent on foreign aid to feed its population. One of the reasons for the declining influence of Islah, the Islamist party, may be its role as the equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen. It has been Saudi policy to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudis have not been supporting Islah in Yemen. The Saudi monarchy is alarmed by the situation in Yemen because of the long shared border and the potential for spill-over from Yemen. Riyadh is building a border fence along the Yemeni border, as well as along its northern, Iraqi border. But the Saudis are also worried about rebel Shia movements in general because of its fragile legitimacy among its own Shia minority, estimated at 15% or more of the population. The Shia community is concentrated in the Eastern Province of Qatif, the location of most of Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves, and the Saudi government tends to see Iranian influence behind Saudi Shia protests.

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