These Houthi Iranian allies fought five wars against the government forces during the presidential term of Ali Abdullah Saleh, and attacked Saudi Arabia in 2009. They undermined the UN sponsored Yemeni agreement, when their militias entered Sanaa and seized power in September 2014.
Saudi Arabia has two goals to achieve in Yemen:
– To solidify legitimacy of its neighbor, as stability and security in Yemen is vital
– To protect its borders and territories from chaos, terrorism, and smuggling
Saudi Arabia is concerned that the Iranians are behind the Houthis, and that they plan to besiege Saudi Arabia. “If it hadn’t been for Saudi Arabia’s advanced defense capabilities, missiles would have caused panic and serious damage in southern cities,” writes Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of the leading Arab daily, Asharq al-Awsat, in an article for Al-Arabiya.
He goes on to say that, “Riyadh has several good options now that more than one third of Yemen has been liberated and is governed by legitimate forces under the Saudi-led coalition. The first option is for the war to go on, confront hostile forces in Yemen and fight Saleh’s troops, Houthi militias and al-Qaeda organization,” and adds, “The second option is to settle with what has been achieved and resume its military support of the legitimate government to strengthen its influence in areas it controls. The third option is to protect its territories and create a buffer zone, south of its borders that include Saada,” but he says that the second option is “not practical because parties like Iran and al-Qaeda will be active and legitimacy will weaken.”
He poses a third option of “cleansing north of Yemen and creating a buffer zone will unify all capabilities to attack the Houthis in their home.” He believes that if successful, this will resolve the crisis, as it is his opinion that it is caused by the Houthis.
The Houthis comprise only 3 percent of Yemen’s residents, and that those who support them possibly double that percentage. Still, the small number of Houthis and their followers does not mean they not dangerous, as they are committed to the fighting ritual of “jihad” as they interpret it, so the Houthis will continue to pose a threat.
Saada is the headquarters of Houthi tribal and military leadership. Although they are militias, and not armies, they are capable of engaging in further confrontations and skirmishes. If the Houthis’ are stopped in Saada, their rebellion may be stopped, as well.