Analysis: The war in Yemen is NOT sectarian

Screen grab from a video (below) showing Shiite militiamen burning down the Sunni village of Al-Bouajil, near Tikrit.
Screen grab from a video showing Iranian- led  Shiite militiamen burning down the Sunni village of Al-Bouajil, near Tikrit.

By: Faisal J. Abbas

With Shiite-Iran backing the Houthi militias coup and Sunni-Saudi Arabia leading the military coalition in response to legitimate President Abdrabu Mansour Hadi’s plea to save the country, it is completely understandable why many people might believe the war in Yemen has sectarian motives.

It is also understandable why many stake-holders – namely from the Iranian side – might want people to continue thinking this way. Iran, after all, would never admit that it is a rogue player and that it is deliberately meddling with the internal affairs of neighboring countries to serve its own expansionist interest.

However, those who believe that the war in Yemen is indeed sectarian, probably also believe that Gulf countries oppose the Syrian regime simply because they (GCC countries) are Sunni and the Tehran-backed President, Bashar al-Assad, is Alawite.

Such a narrow-minded view completely ignores crucial facts, such as the extremely good relationship that Assad enjoyed with Gulf countries (particularly, Saudi Arabia) for a long time PRIOR to 2011, when the regime undertook a bloody crackdown on its own people.

Using bullets, barrel bombs and chemical weapons, Assad’s ongoing merciless campaign has left nearly 200,000 people (mostly civilians) killed, and millions of innocent men, women and children displaced in neighboring countries and across the world.

Despite this sparking the ire of every other country on the planet, Iran – alongside Russia – seems to be unique in its support of Assad, not just politically, but by providing the military, logistical and financial aid required for his regime to continue the mass-murder of its own people.

Same scenario in Lebanon

Of course, those who believe both the wars in Yemen and Syria are sectarian, probably also reject accusing the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, of killing the former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri (Despite all the damning evidence presented at the STL.)

Yes, Hariri was Sunni (as all Prime Ministers of Lebanon are) and yes, he was supported by Saudi Arabia, but he was renowned as one of the very few Lebanese politicians NOT to have a sectarian agenda and his legacy lives on as a man who tried to do good for Lebanon – all of Lebanon -and not just his sect. One simply has to compare the late PM’s record of nationalistic public statements to that of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah , where the later bluntly declares allegiance to Iran.

In fact, even Nasrallah himself can’t deny Hariri’s patriotism and ability to put differences aside when it came to what benefited Lebanon. Indeed, the late PM was among Hezbollah’s biggest supporters when they were legitimately resisting the Israeli occupation which ended in 2000.
However, how could anyone (apart from Iran, of course!) continue to support Hezbollah when they turned the same weapons used to dislodge the Israeli occupiers against their own legitimate Lebanese government to seize control of Beirut in 2008?

The Saudi-Israeli ‘conspiracy’

Some people are also likely to believe myths such as the supposed Saudi-Israeli ‘conspiracy’ against any real attempt to liberate occupied Palestinian lands. Of course, these people are likely to deny that the infamous – and documented – ‘Iran-Contra’ affair (when the U.S. facilitated sales of weapons to Iran via ISRAEL in the 1980’s) never happened.

These fact-deniers probably also hail Iran’s support to Islamist groups such as Hamas, neglecting that if there is anyone who is as guilty as Israel of continuously undermining any real hope of achieving peace, it is definitely the likes of Hamas.

Just as the Israelis seem to continue to intimidate by building more settlements during negotiations, Hamas almost always fire missiles at Israel whenever an important peace milestone is nearly achieved.

Not only that, but by hijacking the resistance, Hamas is guilty – perhaps unintentionally – of allowing the just Palestinian cause, to be perceived as a religious one, and the conflict with Israel to be described as part of a long-standing war between Muslims and Jews; rather than the simple, straightforward fact of Israel being an occupying force in defiance of international law.

In fact, if the late Saudi King Abdullah’s 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (which offered normalization of relations in return for a withdrawal from occupied Palestinian areas) proves anything, it shows that any existing official Arab hostility towards Israel is strictly a matter of territorial dispute and has nothing to do with religion; one only has to compare this with the official Iranian rhetoric relating to Israel to understand who really wants peace and who just wants to exploit the politics of hatred.

Iran Vs Saudi Arabia

Of course, in no way am I trying to imply that Saudi Arabia is ideal or flawless, on the contrary, the Saudis have their fair share of mistakes and mess-ups. However, when compared to Iran, what is evidently clear is as follows: Iran is trying to destabilize the region to serve its own interest; while, Saudi Arabia, at its own expense, is trying to counter these attempts and bring stability to the Middle East.

Some will immediately jump in here and ask: what about the alleged Saudi support for ISIS and al-Qaeda?

Again, people will believe what they want in the end, but the reality is whilst it is true that there are many Saudis who have joined or contributed to terrorist groups; Saudi Arabia – as a country – is a major ally in the war against terrorism, while both ISIS and al-Qaeda have declared hatred for the Saudi government and have attacked within the kingdom several times.

As such, the Saudi war on terror is ongoing, and many brave soldiers gave their lives to this fight as authorities continue to track, prosecute and punish citizens who are found guilty of supporting or financing the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS.

On the other hand, Iran is a country which OFFICIALLY backs terrorist groups, be it Shiite ones such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAS) in Iraq (which is responsible for the murder of many Iraqis, Britons and Americans), or in serving as a safe haven for various extreme Sunni al-Qaeda plotters, according to U.S. State department and treasury findings.

Of course, people will always believe what they want to believe, but the facts will continue to speak for themselves and when it comes to Iran, the facts can’t get any clearer!


Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English and a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist.

Al Arabiya