Neighboring countries fear that the Shia rebels plan to completely take over the government and then call on Iran to help protect the Shia government from internal enemies (the Sunni majority) and hostile Sunni neighbors (particularly Saudi Arabia and the other wealthy Gulf oil states). This is rather far-fetched, although Iranian ships and aircraft can reach Yemen by taking the long way (out over the Indian Ocean rather than over the Sunni Gulf states or via the Strait of Hormuz. What the Sunni Arab states are doing is responding to all the media and popular discussions inside Iran about how wonderful that the Shia are taking control of Yemen. More cynical Sunni Arabs note that Yemen is the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula and an economic disaster zone. If you want to hurt Iran, let them “own” Yemen. Iran has its own economic crises because of plunging oil prices and growing sanctions. The last thing is needs is more economic obligations in Yemen. Although a minority in Yemen, the Shia are more aggressive and face a divided Sunni community. Iran has always helped the Yemeni Shia, but never in a big way. This annoys Arabs a lot because admitting that the Yemeni Shia are simply tougher, better organized and more aggressive than the Sunni majority in Yemen is difficult to accept. Traditional thinking among Sunnis is that Shia are scum and a bunch of unreliable losers. Sunnis hate it when Shia win at anything, especially insurrection.
Another problem the Sunni Gulf states have is Islamic terrorists operating in Yemen. The biggest threat in this department is AQAP
(Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)
was formed in 2009 after the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda organization (several thousand full and part time members at its peak) fled to Yemen and merged with the Yemeni al Qaeda branch. AQAP also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Growing unrest in Yemen (against the decades old Saleh dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit locally and by 2011 take over several towns in southern Yemen. Then the new post-Saleh government launched a counteroffensive in 2012 and AQAP got hurt very badly. That offensive continued, along with the growing use of American UAVs in Yemen. In April 2014 another major offensive was launched against AQAP and this succeeded in capturing all the new bases AQAP had established in remote mountain areas after the 2012 defeat. That was followed by an invasion of the south by Shia rebels from the north which both AQAP, pro-government Sunni tribes and most army units opposed. While the al Qaeda situation is desperate in Yemen, AQAP is still al Qaeda’s most capable branch and the only one that has shown any ability to support attacks (few successful so far) in the West. Now that capability is in doubt, for a while at least. All this has been good news for Saudi Arabia which has always been the primary foreign target for AQAP attacks.
December 31, 2014: In the southeast (Ibb province) an AQAP suicide bomber dressed as a woman detonated his explosives at a religious ceremony, killing 49 people. The intended target was apparently the pro-Shia provincial governor who was wounded.
December 30, 2014: In the south (Aden) masked gunmen on a motorbike murdered an army officer. Islamic terrorists use these assassinations to intimidate key army officers. Elsewhere in the south (Hadramout province) AQAP gunmen robbed a bank of $242,000.
December 29, 2014: In the south (Hadramout province) AQAP attacked an army convoy with a roadside bomb and gunfire. This killed two soldiers and wounded eleven but the main target of the attack, a senior general, was uninjured. Elsewhere in the south (Baida province) AQAP gunmen murdered a senior intelligence officer. In the capital a bomb planted in the car of a Shia tribal chief missed its target but did kill the chief’s son and a bodyguard.
December 27, 2014: North of the capital Shia and Sunni tribesmen clashed leaving at least twelve dead (nine of them Shia).
In the south (Hadramout province) AQAP attacked a convoy killing two soldiers and wounding four.
December 25, 2014: In the capital Shia rebels took control of another government agency (the Civil Aviation Authority). The government said this violated the UN agreement but the Shia said the government was not cooperating. Elsewhere in the capital Shia gunmen kidnapped a senior (a general) intelligence officer.
December 24, 2014: In the south (Baida province) violence between Sunni tribesmen and Shia rebels caused over a hundred casualties in the last few days. Most of the fighting was in and around the Shia controlled town of Rada.
In the capital Shia gunmen arrested twenty anti-Shia protestors, causing the rest of the crowd to disperse.
December 23, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) two days of protests by separatists turned violent and left two separatists dead and five wounded.
In the capital there were six attacks on Shia rebels (five of them small bombs) that left two Shia dead, including a senior leader who was shot by assassins.
December 21, 2014: North of the capital fighting between Sunni and Shia tribesmen caused hundreds of casualties. The Sunni tribes were angry at the earlier arrest (or “kidnapping”) of 40 Sunni tribesmen by the Shia. For weeks the Shia rebels have been trying to subdue the Sunni tribesmen here who oppose the Shia takeover of the government. The Shia seized control of the main town (Arhab) in the area but there are lots of armed and angry Sunni tribesmen out in the countryside.
December 19, 2014: In the south (Hadramout province) AQAP attacked a truck with a roadside bomb killing three soldiers and wounding five others.
December 18, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) AQAP fired two rockets at the LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) facility on the coast. The rockets missed. AQAP has decided that the foreign company (Total from France) running the facility is cheating Yemen and must be punished.
Elsewhere in the south (Baida province) two AQAP car bombs hit Shia gunmen in the Shia controlled town of Rada, killing over 30. The dead included 20 children who were in a bus passing by one blast.
In the west (Hudeida province) two AQAP car bombs attacked Shia gunmen in the city of Hudeida. Over 40 Shia died.
December 17, 2014: In the south (Hadramout province) AQAP attacked a truck with a roadside bomb killing three soldiers.
In the capital Shia gunmen entered the headquarters of the state owned oil company and locked the director and deputy director out of their offices.
In the west (Hudeida province) Shia gunmen shut down the Red Sea port in the city of Hudeida. In November defeated soldiers and police to take control of the port. This is the second largest port in Yemen and shutting it down is another effort to force the government to do what the Shia want.
December 15, 2014: In the south (Aden) a prominent separatist leader was shot dead as police sought to arrest him.
December 14, 2014: In the west (Hudeida province) Shia gunmen removed the government appointed provincial governor and installed a man loyal to the Shia cause.
December 13, 2014: On the Saudi border Yemeni soldiers shot dead five AQAP men (and captured another) trying to enter Saudi Arabia while disguised as women (in the niqad, which covers the face and everything else). When a soldier boarded the bus the men were on one of them opened fire, wounding the soldier. A suicide bomb vest and several firearms were found on the bus.