Fears Yemen crisis creating a proxy war in Middle East

The unraveling security situation in Yemen is increasingly pitting Mideast regional powers against one another.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are battling Saudi-supported government loyalists for control over the country in a conflict that has escalated in recent months. Violence there is leading to fears a civil war in Yemen could lead to a wider regional conflict.

Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland spoke to Retired Navy Commander Kirk Lippold and Oren Adaki about the potential long-term implications.

“When you look at Yemen, they still have the inability to have proper governance … what you are seeing is a disaffected minority, in the Houthis eventually saying ‘enough’ and begin to move against the government, “said Lippold, who was commander of the USS Cole during the 2000 Al Qaeda terror attack in Yemen.

Beyond Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt are involved in some way with operations against the Yemeni rebels. Iran has already warned the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen is a "dangerous step."

These movements, experts say, show how several countries have a vested interest in the conflict and its outcome.

“The absence of U.S. leadership created a power vacuum in the region where other destabilizing actors are trying to fill that vacuum. The Saudis and the rest of our Gulf allies have been deeply concerned about the situation in Yemen for a long time,” said Adaki, a research analyst for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

He added, “the Houthi rebels have been militarily expanding and have really taken over much of Yemen – they have been doing this with much direct help from the Iranians “and points to weapon shipments they received from Tehran for several years now.

There are indications Iran’s involvement in Yemen is the latest example of Tehran wanting to exercise greater say in the Middle East.

“Iran is taking strategic advantage of tactical decisions that are being made,” said Lippold. “Initially with the proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, recently propping up the government of Assad in Syria, and now, look at what is happening in Iraq.”

Iran-backed militias in Iraq have garnered attention for their recent support of Iraqi forces battling ISIS terrorists in Tikrit.

U.S. allies in the region, he points out are “drawing a line in the sand” against Iran.  “The reality is we cannot afford to have a large sectarian fight breaking out in Yemen.”