Few Americans seem to comprehend what is unfolding in the Middle East – with the latest conflict involving Saudi airstrikes against the Houthi rebels who now control Yemen’s capital of Sanaa. In this swirl of regional wars, it’s often not clear where the U.S. government stands and how American interests are affected.
The reason for the confusion is simple: Many key pundits who get to explain what’s going on from the op-ed pages of the major U.S. newspapers and from the TV talk shows prefer that the American people don’t fully grasp what’s happening. Otherwise, the people might realize the dangers ahead and demand substantial changes in U.S. government policies.
But a few basic points can help decipher the confusion: Perhaps the most important is that – although it’s rarely acknowledged in the mainstream U.S. media – Israel is now allied with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Persian Gulf states, which are, in turn, supporting Sunni militants in Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, this Israel-Saudi bloc sustains Al-Qaeda and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the Islamic State.
The U.S. news media is loath to note these strange Israeli bedfellows, but there’s a twisted logic to the Israeli-Saudi connection. Both Israel and the Saudi bloc have identified Shiite-ruled Iran as their chief regional adversary and thus are supporting proxy wars against perceived Iranian allies in Syria and now Yemen. The Syrian government and the Houthi rebels in Yemen are led by adherents to offshoots of Shiite Islam, so they are the “enemy.”
The schism between Sunni and Shiite Islam dates back to 632, to the secession struggle after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The dispute led to the Battle of Karbala where Hussein ibn Ali was captured and beheaded in 680, an event that gave rise to Shiite Islam as a rival to Sunni Islam, which today has both moderate and extremist forms with Saudi Arabia sponsoring the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabism.