One of the most difficult things in trying to make sense of the seeming senseless slaughter in the Mideast is knowing who’s who.
Most of us in the West are clueless as to the players in jihadi mayhem. Readers’ eyes glaze over when reading about internecine bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites.
Add to that the Syrian Alawites brutally dominating the Sunni majority. Then add the Iranian-controlled Hizbullah and their tenuous alliance with Hamas. Then fold in Fatah, al-Qaida, and whatever ISIS or ISIL or Islamic State is calling themselves this week… and you have a recipe for mass confusion.
And that doesn’t even begin to account for the local tribal warfare that has spilled more Muslim blood than any Israeli war.
The common denominator of all of these terrorist organizations is their mode of operation … and their enmity for both Israel and the United States.
But as the killing fields extend across the Middle East, the news from Yemen, jarring as it is, is a head-scratcher when you read it without context.
A violent push Tuesday by Houthi rebels against the American-backed government in Yemen is undermining military and intelligence operations against al-Qaida’s Yemen-based affiliate, which made its reach felt in this month’s deadly Paris attacks, U.S. officials say.
Who are Houthi rebels? And who are they rebelling against?
The Houthis are Zaidi Shiites. Their name comes from their founder, Hussein Al-Houthi, who was killed in 2004. A profile in the Yemen Times asks whether he was a pious Shia or a dangerous rebel leader. They clearly opt for the former. Yet they quote from a speech he gave in 2002:
“Why did America come to Yemen? Under the pretext of spreading democracy and fighting terror? Did they come to be briefed on the situation in Yemen, and then decide what kinds of projects were needed for Yemen’s development? Or did they come to plough and sow the lands or make beehives? Did they come to work with us or for something else? America is the greatest devil and lies behind every evil in the world. The ones who rule America are Jews and they are described in our Koran as those who mislead people.”
In September, President Barack Obama cited Yemen as a terrorism success story. He said it was part of his strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which involves targeted U.S. strikes on terrorists with the cooperation of a friendly ground force. The president called it an approach “that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”
Ten days later, the Iran-backed Houthi militia swept into Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, seizing a share of power. On Tuesday, those same rebels seized the presidential palace and shelled the president’s residence.
As of this writing, CNN is reporting, “Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi still considers himself to be in power.”
But Associated Press reports that Shiite rebels in control of Yemen’s capital now hold the country’s president “captive” at his home, his aides said Wednesday, putting in question who actually rules Yemen.
Hadi “cannot leave his house” after Houthi rebels removed his guards and deployed their own fighters there Wednesday, one aide said.
Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi — a top U.S. ally in the war against al-Qaida in Yemen — appears to have run out of options to continue governing the country, months after the Houthis began a blitz in September, seizing the capital and state institutions.
The Houti coup, and the fall of the capital, are a welcome mat for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
“The government is hanging by a thread,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee. “This has really scrambled our counterterrorism strategy there and it gives al-Qaida a great new opportunity.”
The U.S. embassy in Yemen has long been operating on reduced American staff, but there are an estimated 800 State Department personnel, American citizens and designated foreign nationals in Yemen, plus several dozen Marines guarding the embassy and an unspecified number of special operations forces and CIA officers.
As in the past, when the United States supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, the U.S. military trained elite units in Yemen to fight al-Qaida. And they saw a confluence of interests with the Houtis who were also battling al-Qaida.
But the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. And, once again, America has fed the hand that bites it.