Yemen’s president told the military it needs to be on high alert and ready for battle after Iran-backed Houthi militia killed at least 70 soldiers and wounded 150 more in a missile and drone attack on a training camp in Yemen on Saturday, in one of the deadliest attacks of the five-year-old civil war.
The attack “confirms without doubt that the Houthis have no desire for peace”, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said, in a statement on Yemen’s state news agency SABA.
The bombing marks a further escalation of the proxy war playing out in the Middle East, and comes two weeks after the US killed one of Iran’s most powerful military leaders, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone attack in Iraq.
The Houthi attack hit a warehouse and a mosque at a military base in Marib, where soldiers were performing evening prayer. The personnel killed included members of the Fourth Brigade of the presidential guard and the air force, military sources said.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that this is part of the revenge for Soleimani’s killing,” said Mustafa Alani, Director of Security and Defense Department at the Gulf Research Center, adding that Houthi leaders made clear that they were set on revenge for Soleimani’s death.
At more than 70 dead, the Marib attack ranks as one of the deadliest of the five-year-old conflict, which pits the Arab Coalition and the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi against the Houthis, a militia directed by Iran.
President Hadi was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa and is now based in the southern port city of Aden. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps directs the Houthis, who hold Sanaa and most of Yemen’s big urban centers, through military leadership, provision of weapons, funding and training.
Military analyst Yahya Abu Hatem told Al Arabiya he believes the country is facing a “decisive battle” following the latest attack, which comes amid renewed push by the United Nations to rekindle peace talks.
Alani from the Gulf Research Center said the Houthis could be positioning themselves to resume peace negotiations. “You have to prove your capabilities and ability to cause harm before any peace talks,” he said. “If you are strong in the field, you are strong at the negotiating table. The Houthis are trying to prove that they have the upper hand in military strength.”
Most of the victims of Saturday’s attack are likely to be Yemeni because Sudanese and Saudi soldiers, part of the Arab Coalition, are based elsewhere in the country, he added.