They fired on us. We fired on them. It was self-defense. That’s the U.S. Navy’s story and they’re sticking to it. Although it was a matter of self-defense, the missile exchange in Yemen was the first time the U.S. ever fired missiles into Yemen. This means that the U.S. is now officially part of the conflict in Yemen, which is often called “the forgotten war,” in light of the Syrian conflict.
It happened last week when a U.S. Navy warship in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen was fired upon twice in four days by the Houthis (hoo-thees), a Shia group that controls a large area of Yemen. To fully understand what’s going on in Yemen, it’s necessary to first untangle all the “proxies” in this war.
The Houthis have been battling Saudi Arabia over control of territory in Yemen for the last year, along with several other groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. The Houthis are a proxy for Iran, who has been supporting them with equipment and weapons. Saudi Arabia is a proxy for the U.S., who is directly funding the Saudis, and providing weapons and support in this conflict.
To make matters more confusing, Congress is now Demanding Answers Regarding Obama’s Recent $1.7B Cash Payment to Iran. “Congressional critics are focusing on concerns that sending Iran the large sum in cash has made it easier for the money to be used to finance terrorism.” It’s been alleged that this money might have been used by Iran to support the Houthis’ attack on the U.S. warship. So, America is effectively spending a lot of money on both sides of this conflict.
When all the shrouds of proxies are lifted on the conflict in Yemen, the most important players will be the U.S. and Iran, and possibly Russia, who Iran is sometimes-proxy to. The translation of last week’s strikes? It means the U.S. and Iran are dangerously toying with levels of engagement.
Yemen, like Syria, represents a massive humanitarian crisis. Yemen and Syria together are redefining the term “quagmire.” The Saudis have been increasingly guilty of targeting civilians in Yemen, including a recent strike against a civilian funeral where 140 innocent citizens were killed. So the U.S. is considering withdrawing some if not all support for Riyadh in this conflict. It’s a good thing. The U.S. has enough quagmires of its own for now. However, President Obama still contends that if the U.S. is fired upon again, we will defend ourselves whenever “necessary and appropriate.”