Collateral damage is a jihadist’s best friend. In Yemen, as ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ intensifies, there can only be one winner: the terrorist recruitment agenda. Bombs are indifferent to friends or foes, and any civilian deaths will be celebrated by Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The pan-Arab, Saudi-led coalition seeks to erase the Shiah Houthi rebels, or force them to negotiate. However, with no infantry support, the vanquished Houthis will simply give way to the jihadists, who lurk in the periphery. In the latter case, there is the precedent of last year’s UN-brokered peace deal that quickly went south.

This is a classic catch-22 situation; the Houthi insurgency in North Yemen has been long drawn and seesawing. It’s steadily gained steam since 2004, but was filed away as manageable chaos. While Shiah ex-Dictator Abdullah Saleh helmed Yemen, his royal namesake, the Saudi King Abdullah, was happy to live and let live. The US also happily picked off local Al-Qaeda targets with its drone program. Even when the Arab Spring claimed Saleh in 2011, no one panicked. The new Sunni President, Mansur Hadi, was Saleh’s former deputy, and the Americans and Saudis expected business as usual.

Somewhere along the line, this equation changed as in September 2014, the Houthis seized Sanaa, and Hadi fled southwards to Aden. Amid his pleas for outside intervention, the rebels marched and took the city of Taiz. When they appeared on Aden’s horizon, the Yemeni president set sail for Saudi Arabia. This jolted the Saudis new King Salman into action. Now the threat of renegade fighters mobilizing south of their border became very real.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a lesser known outpost of the original terror outfit. It became newsworthy when one of the Charlie Hebdo perpetrators reportedly trained with the group in Yemen. ISIS also joined the sectarian fray with a bang. It engineered the recent suicide bombings in Sanaa mosques, which killed over 140 Shiah. ISIS is also happy with the global focus shift towards Yemen.

More alarmingly, recent reports suggest that both groups may become allies in Yemen. A far more ominous outcome was recently suggested by the Houthis themselves on Iranian FARS news. Mon’em Al-Qurashi, of the Houthis Executive Committee, threatened with “conducting martyrdom-seeking operations inside Saudi Arabia,” if the Kingdom did not back off. Now who better to train them in such warfare than the sultans of suicide jackets, AQAP and ISIS?

As farfetched as this sounds desperate men do desperate things, and insurgents are no different. If the Saudi-coalition harasses them enough, and Iran has as little sway as it claims, Yemen could permanently go down the rogue pipe.

S.MUBASHIR NOOR,

Islamabad, April 4.