Crisis in Yemen

  • Context: The Supreme Court has sought the government’s response on an urgent plea from a 33-year-old Tirunelveli resident to rescue her husband and other Indian workers held “captive” by Houthi rebels in Yemen.


Yemen Crises: The Timeline

April 2020: Yemen separatists declare self-rule in south

  • Yemen’s main southern separatist group announced that it would establish self-rule in areas under its control, which the Saudi-backed government warned would have “catastrophic consequences”.
  • The move threatens to renew conflict between the UAE-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Saudi-backed government, allies in Yemen’s war.
  • The STC is one of the main groups fighting against the Houthis as part of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. But the separatists have clashed with government forces in the past.

September 2019: Bombing of oil field in Saudi Arabia

  • In September 2019, the Houthis, a rebel Shia group of Yemen that is backed by Iran, bombed the Abqaiq plant as well as the Khurais oil field in Saudi Arabia.
  • Saudi Aramco describes Abqaiq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world,” and the Khurais is considered Saudi Arabia’s second-largest oil field (see map below):
  • In recent months, the Houthi rebels have carried out a spate of cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for a long-running Saudi-led bombing campaign on rebel-held areas in Yemen.
  • The latest attack, executed by drones, meant that Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, had to not only suspend the production of almost 6 million barrels per day (about 6 per cent of global oil supply) but also restrict the use of 2 mbd of spare capacity.
  • This is the largest-ever disruption in crude oil production in Saudi Arabia, which supplies 10 per cent of global world supply and is the world’s largest crude oil exporter.
  • India is world’s third largest crude importer after China and U.S. (with Saudi Arabia supplying nearly a fifth of India’s imports).
  • Iraq was India’s primary source of crude oil between January and July 2019; Saudi Arabia was a close second.

The Yemen Crisis: Background

  • Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?
  • Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been devastated by a civil war. 
  • How did the war start?
  • Failed political transition following an Arab Spring uprising that forced its long-time authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.
  • President Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including
  1. Attacks by al-Qaeda,
  2. A separatist movement in the south,
  3. The continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr Saleh, as well as
  4. Corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
  • The Houthi movement (by Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority) took advantage of the new president’s weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas and later forcing Mr Hadi to flee to Riyadh where he currently heads an ‘internationally recognised’ but largely ineffective government of Yemen.
  • Yemen’s internationally-backed government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Saudi ally, is controlling the south, though Mr. Hadi is running the purported administration from Saudi Arabia.
  • Disillusioned with the transition, many ordinary Yemenis – including Sunnis – supported the Houthis.
  • Alarmed by the rise of Houthis – believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and other mostly Sunni Arab states (UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Sudan, Egypt- mostly Sunni powers) began an air campaign (“Operation Decisive Storm”) aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.
  • The coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.
  • Four years on, the civil war has ground to a stalemate, with the al-Houthis hunkering it out in the north.
  • The United Nations has described Yemen to be currently in the grip of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, with over 11,000 deaths and 3 million internally displaced.

A three-way conflict

  • The UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), which was formed in mid-2017, calls for an independent South Yemen and is vehemently against the presence of Islamists in Yemen such as Islah party (member of Saudi-led coalition), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State.
  • Recently, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a militia group that was fighting the Houthis as part of the Saudi-led coalition, turned against their masters and captured the presidential palace in Aden as well as the city’s main port.
  • In return, Saudi jets targeted STC fighters before a tenuous ceasefire set in. It now looks like a three-way conflict.
  • The STC wants the south to be an independent entity, like it was till the Yemeni unification in 1990.

Other Related Aspects

  • Island of Socotra – a UNESCO world Heritage Site where UAE, coalition partner of Saudi Arabia had deployed its security forces.
  • Operation Golden Victory
  1. A large-scale ground operation to liberate Yemen’s Hodeidah city and its main port west of the country.
  2. It has been launched by Yemen forces supported by the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Operation Rahat

  • It was launched by India to evacuate its citizens from Yemen in 2015 after an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and UAE intervened in Yemen.
  • India has also teamed up with the United Arab Emirates in providing major humanitarian and post-traumatic medical support to the soldiers of Yemen who were injured in the ongoing war against the rebels of that country.
  • So far, India has treated victims from Iraq and Syria on a bilateral basis.
  • However, this is the first time that such an operation is being conducted through support from a third country – the UAE.

Forward Defence Doctrine

  • Iran has adopted a ‘forward defence’ doctrine which involves empowering militias and proxies in other countries, such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon, mobilisation units in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen.


  • Yemen borders both Saudi Arabia and Oman.
  • Yemen borders both Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
  • While almost all Yemenis are Muslims, the population in the north is mostly Zaidi which is closer to the Shia sect followed in Iran.
  • The southerners are mostly Sunnis akin to a majority of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) citizens.
  • Bab al-Mandeb Strait is a geo-strategic choke point connecting the Arabian Sea with the Red Sea onwards to the Suez Canal.
  • Most of India’s west-bound sea trade passes through Bab al Mandeb.

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