Political Analysis

Saudi FM: Houthis are our Neighbors, ISIS the Main Enemy

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir delivers a statement after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington, February 8, 2016.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir delivers a statement after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Written by Fakhri Al-Arashi

After a solid 14 months of intensely bloody sectarian war against Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthis, the Saudi government is publicly changing the narrative, and insisting that now the war is entirely about fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir declared that “the Houthis are our neighbors,” and that al-Qaeda and ISIS “must be confronted in Yemen and everywhere else.” That’s a major shift in attitude, as the war was initially wholly about fighting the Houthis.

Indeed, AQAP gained huge amounts of territory early in the Saudi war specifically because the Saudis were only fighting the Houthis, chasing them out of many cities they didn’t occupy themselves. This left AQAP with control of Mukalla, a major port, for a solid year before pro-Saudi forces finally got around to expelling them.

The shift may reflect a growing recognition that they simply aren’t beating the Houthis the way they assumed they would, and that the Islamist groups, smaller and with less territory, would be easier to defeat, even if it means totally redefining the war and picking a new enemy.