One look at a map of the Middle East shows why Yemen, a small country bereft of wealth or natural resources, has the potential to create serious problems not just for its neighbors but also for the global economy. Tiny, impoverished and turbulent, Yemen has escaped the spotlight mostly because the troubles in other parts of the region look more acute and more urgent. That, however, is likely to change.
Over the past couple of months, the ground in that arid strip on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula has shifted. In domestic terms, what has unfolded is a sudden and dramatic rise by what used to be a relatively small insurgent group, the Houthis, who until recently had been fighting the central government for a decade with little to show for it.
From a regional perspective, Iran has gained a steady foothold in Yemen: The Houthis, members of an offshoot of Shiite Islam known as the Zayidis, have strong—if frequently denied—links to Tehran. The changes affect the regional balance of power and, because of Yemen’s strategic location, the outlook for a key and easily controlled passageway for global maritime traffic.