27 March 2015, NYT: The Geography of Chaos in Yemen
MARCH 26, 2015
Egypt Says It May Send Troops to Yemen to Fight Houthis
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO -- Egypt said Thursday that it was prepared to send troops into Yemen as part of a Saudi-led campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi movement,  signaling the possibility of a protracted ground war on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
A day after Saudi Arabia and a coalition of nine other states began hammering the Houthis with airstrikes and blockading the Yemeni coast, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt said in a statement that the country's navy and air force would join the campaign. The Egyptian Army, the largest in the Arab world, was ready to send ground troops "if necessary," Mr. Sisi said.
Egypt must "fulfill the calls of the Yemeni people for the return of stability and the preservation of the Arab identity," he said, alluding to the specter of Iranian influence.
His comments were one of several indications on Thursday that the antagonists on either side of the Yemeni conflict are bracing for a prolonged battle as Yemen -- like Iraq, Libya and Syria -- is consumed by civil conflict, regional proxy wars and the expansion of extremist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
There was no sign of any imminent troop deployment Thursday, and both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have painful memories of previous excursions into Yemen's mountainous desert. But many analysts have already warned that airstrikes by a coalition led by the Saudis are unlikely to defeat the Houthi-allied forces without ground troops.
There were some signs within Yemen on Thursday that the first night of airstrikes may have stirred new support for the Houthis.
"Though I don't agree with the Houthis in many aspects, this airstrike against our homeland is a war against us all," said Wahib Sharabi, 29, a civil engineer trudging to work in Sana, the capital, as residents took stock of the damage. "It's the beginning of the end of the house of Saud."
Saudi news media said on Thursday that on the first night of the offensive, dozens of jets from the kingdom and its allies had hit key military bases around the country, fully disabling the Houthi-aligned Yemeni Air Force.
Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival and the Houthis' main ally, denounced the assault as an American-backed attempt "to foment civil war in Yemen or disintegrate the country."
Houthi-controlled television channels broadcast footage of dead bodies and wounded civilians, blaming "American-backed aggression." In a televised address, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, the movement's leader, called the airstrikes "criminal, unjust and unjustified aggression" and vowed to beat back the Saudi Arabian interference.
The fighting drove prices for crude oil  up about 4 percent on Thursday over concerns that the fighting in Yemen might affect the passage of tankers through the Bab el Mandeb strait, a narrow chokepoint between Yemen and Djibouti on the way to the Suez Canal.
The Houthi movement, which is concentrated in Northern Yemen and follows a variant of Shiite Islam, has repeatedly clashed with Yemen's central government over the years. But now it has found an unexpected ally in former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. A member of the same Shiite sect as the Houthis, he was ousted in a transition brokered by Yemen's Gulf neighbors during the Arab Spring revolts. He had battled the Houthis while he was president but has now struck an alliance with them in order to engineer a comeback. He retained the loyalty of key parts of the military and security services, and lent that support to help in the fight against the new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Mr. Hadi fled the Houthi-controlled capital last month to take refuge among his supporters in Aden, and he slipped out of public view on Wednesday when the Houthi forces appeared to close in on the city. On Thursday, Al Arabiya reported that he was in Saudi Arabia on his way to attend a summit meeting in Egypt this weekend but would be returning to Yemen to govern.
Saudi Arabia, the region's chief Sunni Muslim power, on Thursday released a letter from Mr. Hadi urging international intervention to protect his government from "the sinful aggression executed by internal militias" who he said were "supported by regional powers whose objective is to dominate this country and to make it a base for their dominance in the region" -- an unmistakable reference to Iran.
The Saudi Arabian intervention immediately raised the threat that Iran might retaliate by increasing its own support for the Houthis with money and weapons -- as Tehran has in the past -- or with a more active military role, escalating the violence.
Western diplomats and other analysts working in Yemen, however, said that Iran supported but did not control the Houthis, distinguishing them from such Iranian proxies as the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Mr. Saleh, who at times had allied with Saudi Arabia, appears to have played more of a role than Iran in the group's recent rise.
The United States and most Arab nations moved quickly to support the Saudi-led operation in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia is calling Operation Decisive Storm.
A statement from the White House said that the United States would provide "logistical and intelligence support" to the Saudi-led military operations. "While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a joint planning cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support," Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
In Lausanne, Switzerland, where he is meeting with Iran's foreign minister on a nuclear accord, Secretary of State John Kerry held a conference call on Thursday to discuss the situation in Yemen with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. Mr. Kerry "commended the work of the coalition taking military action against the Houthis," a State Department official said, and the official noted that the American support also included "targeting assistance."
Four other Persian Gulf monarchies, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, joined the Saudi operation, as well as the allied Arab kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco. Of the Persian Gulf states, only Oman declined to participate. Two unexpected allies, Pakistan and Sudan, also joined the fight.
A meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, on Thursday endorsed the idea of a combined Arab defense force, a longstanding proposal given new impetus by the crisis in Yemen.
Residents of Sana said the Dailami air base and the city's international airport had been hit. Antiaircraft gunfire continued for hours, and residents said they saw flames rising from both structures.
By morning, local health officials said 25 people had died and 40 others were wounded, and the Houthi-controlled state television channel urged anyone with medical training to rush to the city's hospitals.
Many Sana residents were packing up to leave the city, some of them forced out because their mud-built houses had collapsed from the bombing.
"Sana is not safe anymore; we are leaving for our village," said Mohammed al-Wesabi, walking with his wife and three children and carrying their luggage.
Saudi Arabia last intervened in Yemen in 2009. The kingdom was drawn into a fight against the Houthis in support of the central government, then led by Mr. Saleh. Saudi troops suffered more than 130 casualties within a few months.
Egypt intervened in Yemen in the mid-1960s. President Gamal Abdel Nasser deployed tens of thousands of Egyptian troops for several years to bolster a nationalist coup modeled after his own. It was a bloody and fruitless experience that historians call Egypt's Vietnam. 
Reporting was contributed by Saeed Al-Batati from Al Mukalla, Yemen; Mohammed Ali Kalfood from Sana, Yemen; Kareem Fahim and Stanley Reed from London; Michael R. Gordon from Lausanne, Switzerland; Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran; and Ceylan Yeginsu from Istanbul.