You haven’t heard much about Yemen since Chandler Bing moved there. But a civil war and health crisis have put the country at the center of a much larger power struggle in the Mideast.
Back up. Why did this start?
In 2011, Yemen rode the Arab Spring wave that was sweeping through the region, and minority groups overthrew the country’s dictator. President Hadi stepped in, and eventually became one of the US’s closest allies in the war on terror in the Mideast.
Then what happened?
Enter: the Houthis. They’re an Iran-backed rebel group that has been pushing for more political representation for a while. In 2015, they stopped asking and took it. They kicked out Saudi-backed Hadi and sent him on a permanent vacation in Saudi Arabia. He was able to come back later. But Hadi's exile was other Mideast countries' cue to say ‘Yemen, we have a problem.’
What's the latest?
Saudi Arabia has been launching airstrikes against the Houthis. Iran responded by deploying warships off Yemen’s coast. The US made a cameo by sending its own warships. After a while, the UN stepped in and said, 'let's talk this out.' They helped put a temporary ceasefire in place, which both sides of the conflict promptly violated. So now, the Houthis and Saudi Arabia are still going at it.
Why do other countries care?
Because Yemen’s become a proxy battle between Iran (pro-Houthis) and Saudi Arabia (pro-Hadi) – two top dogs in the Mideast that are backing opposite sides of the fight. Because Yemen sits on a major oil shipping route. And because Yemen’s become a hot-spot for terrorism.
Tell me more.
AQAP – al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – is one of al-Qaeda's most active branches and have set up camp in Yemen. Over the last few years, they’ve become a major terror threat to the West. They’re the ones responsible for this and this. They also claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. AQAP doesn’t have a side in this fight. But they turned chaos into opportunity by stepping up their recruiting and taking over infrastructure.
One more thing. The World Health Organization says that the war has caused a breakdown of Yemen's health and sanitation infrastructure. Now, the country is facing a deadly cholera outbreak. Nearly 2,000 people have died in the past year. And hundreds of thousands more cases have been reported.
Yemen was once the crown jewel of US counterterrorism efforts in the Mideast. Now, it has become a hotbed for chaos.