Iran-Backed Houthi Airstrikes in Yemen Cause Nationwide Internet Blackout: A look into the historical background and ongoing conflict leading to Jan. 2022 airstrike in Yemen.

On Jan. 24, one of several airstrikes hit a telecommunication building in the strategic port city of Hodeida, causing a nationwide internet blackout. Yemen has become an Iranian Proxy War Against Israel, while the UAE faces militant consequences of the Abraham Accords, which aims to promote peace in the Middle East.

Yemen’s civil war began in Jan. 2015.  The Houthis takeover captured much of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, by late 2014.  Reneging on a UN peace deal, the Houthis consolidated control of Sanaa and continued their southward advance, while Hadi’s government resigned under pressure and later fled to Saudi Arabia.  With Hadi in exile, Saudi Forces launched a military campaign — primarily fought from the air — to roll back the Houthis and restore the Hadi administration to Sanaa.

The Houthi movement emerged in the late 1980s as a vehicle for religious

and cultural revivalism among Zaydi Shiites in northern Yemen.  The Zaydis are a minority in the Sunni Muslim-majority country but predominant the northern highlands along the Saudi border.  The Houthis became politically active after 2003, opposing Saleh for backing the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq, but later allying with him after his resignation as president.

The alliance between the Houthis and Saleh was a tactical one:  Saleh’s loyalists opposed Hadi’s UN-backed government, and feeling marginalized in the transition process, planned to regain control of Yemen.  Saleh shifted his support in 2017 to the opposing, Saudi-led coalition and was assassinated by Houthi forces. 

Iran is the Houthis’ primary international backer and has reportedly provided them with military support, including weapons.  The Saudis perceive the Houthis as an Iranian proxy rather than an indigenous movement.  For Saudi Arabia, accepting the Houthis’ control of  Yemen would mean allowing a hostile neighbor to reside on its southern border, and it would mark a setback in its long-standing contest with Iran.  After Saudi Arabia, the UAE has played the most significant military role in the coalition, contributing some ten thousand ground troops, mostly in Yemen’s south.

In Nov. 2019, Hadi and the separatists signed the Riyadh Agreement, which affirms that the factions will share equal power in a postwar Yemeni government.  The separatists reneged on the deal for several months in 2020 and formed its own government with equal representation of northerners and southerners. The formation of a Yemeni government signaled some progress in bridging Yemen’s internal divisions; but would be immediately challenged by Iran.

Sources: BBC, CNN, Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Policy, U.S. Department of State


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