Syria and Yemen: A Tale of Two Troubles

May 4, 2016
Imran Khushal


The crisis in Syria; the most dangerous country on planet earth and Yemen; the poorest country in the Middle East, may look different and unconnected to each other but they are not completely so. There is much about Syria on TV and Social media but less about Yemen, simply because of number and strength of regional and International players. Syria right now is a global battle ground where Russia, the US, the West, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are fighting for their interests. It is fallen among Assad regime, Anti-Assad rebels, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Kurds and other fighting groups and forces.

Who is fighting whom, is complicated to understand. Russia and Iran are Supporting Assad because of their own reasons. Russia is trying to win its lost friends in the Middle East which it had once during the cold war against the US. Iran, on the other hand, is playing as a regional player to balance Saudi influence in the region. Assad’s regime gives Iran what it needs to influence the politics of the Middle East. Saudi Arab is involved mainly because of Iran but this is not the only reason. Turkey is hunting down the Kurds because of their movement and fight against Ankara for the liberation of Kurdistan. Also, the Syrian Kurds help the Turkish Kurds which bothers Turkey. ISIL is fighting against Assad but it is not friendly with anti-Assad rebels. It is also fighting against the Kurds but not against Turkey.


On the other hand in Yemen, the fight is mainly between Houthi rebels and the government. Houthis are the Zaydi Shia’s which are allegedly being supported by Iran, whereas the government is backed by Saudi Arabia. Why? Because, Yemen is Saudi Arabia’s backyard and it is said that if Houthi takes control of Yemen they would also take control of the Bab al-Mandab strait, a narrow waterway which links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden; a gateway for the much of the world’s oil shipments.

But there is more to this story. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which is the richest and most advance branch of Al Qaeda is yet another player in Yemen. How AQAP became stronger and richer in Yemen was highlighted Reuters a month ago. According to Reuters Investigates, Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen made Al Qaeda stronger and richer. It is said that now Al Qaeda in Yemen rules a mini-state like ISIL in Syria, from Al Mukalla as its capital and owns looted bank deposits and revenue from country’s third largest port of worth 100 million dollars approximately.


So, how these two crises are linked together? Apparently, Yemen is a thousand miles away from Syria and there is no tangible connection between these two countries. However, there are links. Syria and Yemen enjoyed good relations for most of the time but when a Civil War engulfed Syria in 2012, things changed in Yemen also because of its sectarian composition, presences of AQAP and external factors.


At first, Yemen showed an unconditional support to Syrian government and it was among few Middle Eastern states who supported President Bashar Al Assad. Houthi went a step ahead and sent militiamen to fight against anti-Assad forces along with Syrian Army. With this, soon Yemen was divided in pro and anti-Assad groups. This division continues till today and Houthis are allegedly getting support from Iran whereas the government is being backed up and supported by Saudi Arabia.

Published in Global, Opinion, Power Games

Story first published: 4th May 2016




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