Oil-exporting countries of the Arabian Gulf are watching anxiously as the security situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate in the wake of US-backed President Hadi’s resignation on Thursday.
The previous day, the port of Aden was closed as Houthi rebels briefly seized control of the presidential palace in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. The port reopened on Thursday, but the situation remains tense.
Concern is growing that, without an effective government, the country is descending into civil war and anarchy, prompting uncomfortable comparisons with its neighbour on the opposite side of the Gulf of Aden, Somalia. Yemen has a long land border with Saudi Arabia and controls the north side of the Bab el-Mandeb, the narrow eastern entrance to the Red Sea.
The Shi’ite Houthis – widely believed to be directed and supplied by Iran – already control the country’s second-largest port, Hodeidah, on the Red Sea, in addition to most of Sana’a. Opposing them are the Sunni al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Southern Movement separatists.
US President Obama promised yesterday [Sunday 25 January] to continue counter-terrorism operations, including UAV attacks, against AQAP in Yemen. However, that may prove difficult if, as reported in the Washington Post, the government has lost control of the country’s military and intelligence agencies.
In September, al-Qaeda said it would target Western interests by attacking shipping ‘chokepoints’, such as the Bab el-Mandeb.