Since August, the Yemeni government has been engaged in an offensive against insurgents in Yemen's northern Saada region -- the sixth it has waged there since June 2004. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has long accused Tehran of aiding the Houthi rebels, portraying the local conflict as part of a larger regional struggle against Iran.
Earlier this month, that conflict escalated dramatically when Saudi Arabia bombed Houthi positions along the Saudi-Yemeni border, following a Houthi attack on Saudi border guards. While evidence of direct Iranian involvement remains questionable, Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of Iran's General Staff recently remarked, "Saudi Arabia's effort to kill Shiites in Yemen . . . is considered a great danger for Islam and the region." The comment served as a clear warning against Saudi Arabia's deeper involvement in the conflict.
Meanwhile, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khaled Bin Sultan has called for the creation of a six-mile buffer zone as a precondition for halting the Saudi bombing campaign, while Saleh indirectly referred to the Saudi bombings as the true beginning of the war with the Houthis. Thus, statements from both sides suggest that the Saudi intervention may foreshadow the outbreak of a full-fledged proxy war.