Saudis, Egypt consider intervention in Yemen, likely by air

With Yemen's president swept out of power by Shiite rebels, neighboring Saudi Arabia and allies such as Egypt are considering whether and how to intervene to stop a takeover of the country by rebels they believe are backed by Shiite Iran.

PTI| Last Updated: Mar 26, 2015, 02:02 AM IST

Cairo: With Yemen's president swept out of power by Shiite rebels, neighboring Saudi Arabia and allies such as Egypt are considering whether and how to intervene to stop a takeover of the country by rebels they believe are backed by Shiite Iran.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has asked Gulf countries for military intervention and asked the United Nations to set up a no-fly zone to shut down rebel-held airports that he claims are being used to fly in Iranian weapons. The question is how Arab nations might act: Experts say a ground operation would be a likely impossibly daunting task, but that airstrikes are an option.

Gulf intervention would have been hard enough when Hadi was clinging to his authority after fleeing from the capital Sanaa to the southern port city of Aden. But it became an even tougher issue today, when Hadi was forced to flee Yemen by boat as rebel fighters, known as Houthis, and their allies advanced into Aden.

The Houthis now control much of the north and a few southern provinces, backed by military forces loyal to Hadi's predecessor, longtime autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed in 2011 after a popular uprising.

There does remain resistance to the Houthis and Saleh -- chiefly Sunni tribesmen in the north and center of the country, local militias and some units of the military and police remain loyal to Hadi, though they are profoundly weakened by his departure.

The scattered nature of the opposition raises the question of whom would any foreign intervention being aiming to help. Also battling the Houthis are militants from al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, which has attracted some Sunni tribesmen as allies.

A summit of Arab leaders being held this weekend in Egypt is due to address a proposal to create a joint Arab defense force, an idea promoted by Saudi Arabia and Egypt to intervene in regional crises. Hadi is to attend the summit, being held in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The summit is also likely to address the crisis in Yemen and how to deal with it, opening the door for a possible Arab League stamp of approval for action.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdellaty said that he and his Arab counterparts would discuss the idea of establishing a joint force on Thursday, to prepare for national leaders to decide on Saturday.

Gulf nations also have cited their own pretext for intervention. The Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain, warned earlier this year that they would act to protect the Arabian Peninsula's security and described the Houthi takeover of parts of Yemen as a "terrorist" act.