It is becoming evident that there is a new fault line in the Middle East, with the Saudi-Yemeni border area as its epicenter. And as with Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, not only is this emerging conflict entangled in the Sunni-Shiite conflict, but also in the war against extremism.
Located in the South of Yemen, just across the Greater Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden, is Somalia, another trouble spot. The waters surrounding the country are a hotbed of piracy, so almost every major power has sent military ships to the region to protect busy commercial sea routes.
Somalia and Yemen are widely viewed as potential ‘go to’ safe havens for the extremists, as pressure from US drones and Pakistan military operations on tribal areas mounts. This has tremendous implications for Saudi Arabia, which definitely does not want to find itself in the same situation as Pakistan: having to face a potentially deadly mixture of regional rivalries and the terrorist threat. These pressures help account for why the Saudis are trying to normalize relations with Syria, an ally of Iran.
Barely two months ago, in August, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) attempted to assassinate the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. It was later learnt that the assailant had crossed over from Yemen and had connections with the tribal areas of Pakistan. Pakistan subsequently arrested and handed over two suspects to Saudi Arabia. On October 13, 18 people were killed when the Yemeni army attacked a clinic near the Saudi-Yemeni border. In a third incident, two men suspected of being Al Qaeda members were killed at the border as well.
Just as the Afghanistan conflict has spilled over into tribal areas and mainland Pakistan, the Yemeni proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia could cross the border while also exacerbating Shiite-Sunni tensions in the region. When one considers the present fragile state of ethnic and religious balance in Iraq, it is a frightening scenario for the mainly Sunni Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations. The prospect of Iranian and Hizbollah support for the Shiite al-Houti insurgency in Yemen has alarmed these countries. The US, the GCC and especially the Saudis and Egyptians are augmenting their support for the Yemeni government’s counterinsurgency efforts, fighting al-Houthi Shiite rebels in the country’s remote mountainous north.
We at PoliTact believe that the Waziristan Operation could take the pressure off Pakistan and Afghanistan but it might also escalate Somali unrest and heat up an Iranian and Saudi-supported proxy war in Yemen. Iran desires to increase this leverage against the Saudi’s, the GCC nations and others, in case it is attacked due to its nuclear ambitions.
It appears that the Salafi Jihadists, initially forced to leave Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan, may return to haunt the Middle East and Africa. It follows that these nations will view the imminent operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan with concern.
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