But couching every complex Mideast crisis as the latest round in a regional tug-of-war is not only simplistic and self-serving, it’s self-fulfilling. If, for instance, Houthi rebels are led to believe that their only true ally in the region is Iran, then Iran it shall be. The Houthis — a tribal people based in Yemen’s north who adhere to a brand of Shiism that at times more closely resembles Sunni Islam — have received Iranian support, but how much, and to what extent, has been the subject of much conjecture and exaggeration. Moreover, if it truly were Iran’s intention to conquer or control large swaths of Yemen, then the sectarian complexion of the Saudi-led alliance now bombing Yemen risks making that a fait accompli.
The Saudis have reportedly destroyed Houthi weapons stockpiles, but to truly quell the uprising will likely require ground troops; a fraught proposition for the well-endowed, but mostly untested, Saudi military. And there is little evidence, even with the assistance of Egyptian ground forces, that its efforts will pay off.
“The Kingdom lacks the military capacity to intervene decisively in Yemen, and if it tries by sending in large numbers of ground troops, the most likely outcome would be a debilitating stalemate that will drain Saudi military resources, financial reserves, and political will,” argues Kenneth Pollack, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.