The Yemen crisis has brought along various contradictions which are more than difficult to grasp and muddle through.
Let’s start with the first one: We have been living with the reality of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for a long time. It took years for the regional powers and international community to take action. Moreover, even after a coalition was finally formed at the end of last summer, airstrikes started only months later.
In Yemen, on the contrary, everything is taking shape at the speed of light. The “Sunni coalition” initiated and led by Saudi Arabia was immediately joined by 10 Sunni countries of the region. The United States declared its logistical and intelligence support right away. And today the Arab League is voting on a resolution on the foundation of a joint “Arab army” at its summit in Egypt.
This all reveals the fact that the sectarian war in the region is being given much more importance than the war against ISIL. And this in itself points at another contradiction: At the moment there are two wars going on in the region. On the one hand, the anti-ISIL struggle is in progress. On the other hand, a sectarian war is taking place. The longstanding and ever increasing Shiite-Sunni tension, mainly caused by the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has finally taken the shape of a hot war in Yemen.
This has brought along another contradiction: We found ourselves faced with a bunch of coalitions. On the one hand there is the anti-ISIL coalition composed of about 60 countries. On the other hand, some of the very same countries are forming a coalition addressing the very same region.
Yet what is even more contradictory is that these coalitions are in contradiction with each other. In other words, partners in one coalition might find themselves as enemies in the other one.
One example of this are Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are the main rivals in Yemen and the region. However, these two countries are fighting against the same enemy on another front: They are allies in the anti-ISIL coalition. Saudis are one of the most active members in the anti-ISIL coalition since they strongly support the airstrikes. And Iran is the main actor in the current war in Iraq.
The same applies to the U.S. and Iran. Both are fighting against ISIL. Moreover, Iran is the U.S.’ main partner in Iraq at the moment. They are in indirect collaboration and cooperation. Yet at the same time, they are on opposing fronts in Yemen since the main target of the “Sunni operation” supported by the U.S. is Iran, which backs the Houthis in Yemen.
This gets even more contradictory taking into account the nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. Iran and the P5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) are just about to reach a nuclear deal. On March 28 they are having the final round in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Another dilemma is from within Yemen. First of all, the sectarian rift between the Shiite Houthis and the Sunnis is not that wide in Yemen. Houthis are closer to Sunnis than to Iran’s Shiism. Moreover, many Sunni tribes in Yemen support Houthis.
However, what is even more contradictory is that the Shiite Houthis are the main enemy of al-Qaeda and ISIL in Yemen. As you might remember, ISIL carried out a series of suicide bombings in four Houthi mosques in Sanaa on March 20, killing 146 people. Similarly, the U.S. has also been fighting against al-Qaeda in Yemen for years. This is why the U.S. and Houthis are allies on this front. Yet at the same time, the U.S. is engaged in the operation against Houthis in Yemen.
There’s more: Houthis have been trying to topple Yemeni President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi for a long time. But at the same time, Hadi and Houthis are both the target of al-Qaeda. Hence they are also allies on this front.
In the light of this series of contradictions, the most rational path for Turkey to follow would be to stay out of this war as much as possible. Otherwise it could find itself in the midst of a longstanding bloody conflict. Even worse, as part of a “Sunni coalition,” it would find itself being identified with a distinct sect and having lost its equal distance to all sects for the first time in Turkey’s history. In other words, losing too much.