Developments in the conflict between Yemeni Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia amid Yemen’s civil war, in which the Saudis have backed the government, could destabilise the region, a leading analyst has said.
The ongoing conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, could become even more volatile in the wake of a missile fired at Riyadh earlier this week.
The attempted attack, which was intercepted mid-air over the south of the Saudi capital, targeted Saudi leaders in a royal palace.
Previous attacks have led the Saudis to accuse Iran of acts of war, as Tehran has backed the Houthi rebels and is accused of supplying their missiles.
Marcus Chevenix, Middle East analyst at TS Lombard, said the Saudis’ conflict with Iran had become “unpredictable” as the conflict continued.
He told CNBC: “I really struggle to predict what’s going to happen next.
“This is the first time for a very long time that there hasn’t been an external arbiter in the Middle East who basically defines everyone’s diplomatic relationships.
“For a long time it was America and Russia, then it was just America and now there’s no one.
“So there’s a power vacuum and that power vacuum is pretty recent. The Iranians saw it first and Saudi Arabia has only really been engaging in this kind of rivalry for the last five years.”
Mr Chevenix explained that after the death of former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, the conflict had become “a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran”.
Houthi rebels killed Saleh, who they supported after he was deposed by an uprising in 2011, when he decided to end his allegiance with them in November.
He said: “That makes it much more troublesome and it makes it a lot more about Saudi. I would expect to see a lot more missiles coming out of Yemen.”
Rebels claimed the December 19 attempted attack on the royal palace signalled a “new chapter” in the conflict.
Witnesses described hearing a blast and seeing a plume of smoke over the Saudi capital as the missile was shot down before it could reach its target.
Saudi palaces, military and oil facilities are within range of such missiles fired from Yemen, the Houthis said, according to a statement distributed via their television channel al-Masirah.
Their statement appeared to back up Mr Chevenix’s suggestion that there will be further missile attacks – making the region all the more volatile.