Ever mindful of the public relations campaign, Saudi officials, and their US backers, are presenting the Saudi attack on Yemen as part of a “proxy war” against Iran.
Relatively recent claims that the long-standing Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen are receiving some unspecified “aid” from the Iranian government are being presented unquestioned as the pretext for a Saudi invasion, but are a flimsy pretext indeed.
The Houthis are a completely different branch of Shi’ite Islam from the Iranians, and it’s not clear they get along all that well. To the extent Iran has favored them at all, it’s been the same reason the Saudis favored the Sunni Islamists and Yemen’s assorted military dictators over the years: to spite one another.
That’s the nature of a proxy war, but when they began direct military involvement this week, the Saudis began something wholly different, an overt act of military aggression.
Calling it anything resembling a proxy war at this point is silly, since the Saudis aren’t acting by proxy, and their pledge to back a president elected under dubious circumstances and who resigned months ago isn’t exactly a strong casus belli.
The Houthis, for their part, are insisting that they don’t intend to seek Iranian help with the war. Iran would be unlikely to intervene in such dramatic fashion as the Saudis at any rate, but as the conflict picks up steam, expect Iran to be under more pressure, particularly domestically, to send some measurable military aid to the Houthis, if for no other reason than to hurt the Saudi war. The Saudis by contrast are trying to justify a war based on Iranian involvement that hasn’t in any meaningful way happened yet.