DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Fighting for an ancient desert city in war-torn Yemen has become the key to understanding the growing tensions that now plague the Middle East, US troops and any attempt by the Biden administration to withdraw US troops. District:
Fighting continues in the mountains near Maribi as Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who hold the Yemeni capital Sanaa, try to seize the city, which is crucial to the country’s energy supply.
Saudi Arabia, which has led a military coalition supporting the ousted Sanaa government since 2015, has launched an air strike on the Houthis advancing on Marib. The Houthis have retaliated against drones and rocket attacks deep inside Saudi Arabia, roaming the world oil markets.
The battle for Marib is likely to determine the outcome of any political settlement in Yemen’s second civil war since the 1990s. If the Houthis capture, the rebels could suppress that advantage in the negotiations and even move further south. If kept, the internationally recognized Yemeni government will spare its only foothold as separatists challenge its authority elsewhere.
The struggle is tightening the pressure on America, one of the most powerful Arab allies in the Persian Gulf, and unleashing any US return to the Iran nuclear deal. It even complicates the Biden administration’s efforts to slowly shift long-standing US military deployments to the Middle East in response to emerging threats from China and Russia.
The loss of Marib “will be the last bullet in the head of an internationally recognized government,” said Abdullah al-Irani, a senior fellow at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies. “You are watching a generation of instability and a humanitarian crisis. You will also watch free theater for regional chaos. ”
According to the UN refugee agency, Marib, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, now has more than 800,000 refugees fleeing Houthis. Fighting disrupts their children’s access to water, electricity, food and education.
“It used to be a rare place in Yemen that had some security and stability,” said Mohsen Nasser al-Muradi, a political activist living near the city. “It simply came to our notice then. We are under constant siege. ”
For some time, since the fall of 2019, Saudi Arabia has been vibrating with the Houthis, says Ahmed Nagy, a non-resident Yemeni expert at the Carnegie Middle East Center. Referring to two Houthi officials familiar with the discussions, Nagy said the feedback agreement would allow both the Saudis and the rebels to refrain from attacking populated areas.
But when the Houthis invaded Marib again, the Saudis resumed heavy bombardment.
For Houthi, “they think they gain more from war than from peace talks,” Nagy said. For the Saudis, who are increasingly announcing they want to end the conflict, “if they lose Marib, they will have a zero card on the table.”
Biden announced at the beginning of his tenure that the United States would stop supporting Saudi Arabia’s offensive operations in Yemen, saying: “This war must end.” He removed the Houthis from the list of “foreign terrorist organizations.”
But the fighting over Marib has only intensified. Iran’s frustration with the Biden administration’s swift lifting of sanctions has led to “intensified attacks by groups in Iraq, as well as in Yemen,” said Anise Basiri Tabrizi, an Iran expert at the United Kingdom Institute of Services.
“Iran is trying to send a message to the United States,” he told Tabriz, “a message that the status quo is not stable.”
As experts discuss the extent to which Iran controls the Houthis, insurgents are increasingly dropping bombs that had previously been linked to Tehran deep inside the kingdom.
“Unfortunately, the removal of the Houthis (a foreign terrorist organization) by the US administration has been misinterpreted by the Houthis,” the Saudi government told the Associated Press. “This misreading of the measure, with the support of the Iranian regime, pushed them to escalate hostilities.”
Since the start of the war, the Houthis have deployed more than 550 drones and more than 350 ballistic missiles in the direction of Saudi Arabia. Despite the damage, injuries and at least one death, the war in Yemen has killed more than 130,000 people. Saudi Arabia has been repeatedly criticized internationally for imposing airstrikes to kill civilians starving a country on the brink of starvation.
Biden’s efforts to end US involvement in the war in Yemen come as his administration seeks to re-enter Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Indirect talks began in Vienna on Tuesday.
“Iranians are interested in selling their Yemeni card at a bargain price for something more durable,” said al-Iriani, a researcher at the Sanaa Center.
Such a deal could be in America’s interests. Biden’s Defense Department is reviewing the deployment of troops, particularly in the Middle East, in what experts call a “major power conflict” that the United States is facing, including China and Russia.
However, such steps will probably be easier said than done.
US troops remain in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, rely on US forces in their forces as a counterweight to Iran.
In general, US forces will remain in the Middle East, which remains potential for global energy markets and includes three major trading points at sea. However, what those forces will look like will change as the United States ponders how to approach China and Russia, while still trying to counterbalance Iran by returning to the nuclear deal.
“It does not solve the Iranian problem,” Stein said. “It gives us room to manage it, as if we are under the care of the host.”