US President Donald Trump and his national security team have been making a concerted push to secure US interests in the Arabian Peninsula, where the Saudis have been backing a war on the Houthi rebels who have sought to overthrow the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The US is also backing Saudi Arabia in a regional war against Iran, a country that the Trump White House says it will support in the fight against Iran.
On Wednesday, the Trump team announced that the US had approved the sale of more than $1.4 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom battle the Houthis.
The announcement came a day after Trump signed a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia that includes $200 million for air-launched missiles.US defence officials have said the weapons will help Saudi Arabia take on the rebels, but there is no evidence the arms will be used to fight the Houthians.
The White House said that the weapons were sold as part of the United States’ ongoing effort to defeat the Houthists, who it said were “armed and trained by Iran”.
But Houthi leaders have dismissed the US support for the rebels as a political ploy to weaken them and to justify the war against them.
The Trump administration has also sought to discredit the US by pointing to a new Saudi-led campaign to destroy al-Qaeda in Yemen.
The new Saudi campaign, called the Southern Offensive, is intended to “defeat al-Qaida in the Indian Ocean region by eliminating al-Qa’ida’s network in Yemen and its affiliate networks in the region, as well as to undermine the Houthian government’s ability to conduct operations in the Saada region and beyond”, according to a statement from the Saudi Ministry of Defence.
But the Houths deny that the Saudi campaign is a war against al-Shabab, a Taliban-aligned Islamist group that has carried out attacks in the Horn of Africa country.
The Saudi-backed campaign is led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the late King Salman.
It has already launched a campaign to wipe out al-Nusra Front, an al-Nusrah Front affiliate in Yemen, which has waged a devastating insurgency against the Saudi-US-backed government since the Saudi intervention in Yemen in 2015.
But analysts have said that while Saudi Arabia has been successful in taking out the al-Fadhil group, the Houth’s role in the war will be the most significant challenge for the Saudi war.
In an interview with Al Jazeera’s Aysha Frade, the head of the US Africa Command, Brigadier General Anthony Zinni, said the HouthIs are a “small but powerful group”.
“We will continue to take on this group in a strategic manner and with the intent of preventing it from becoming the vehicle for the continued expansion of al-Assad regime in Syria,” he said.
“We are going to do it in a manner that is very, very limited, because they are a small but powerful but very determined group.”US officials have also pointed to the Saudi air campaign as evidence that the HouthIs are the enemy of the West.US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is heading a regional dialogue in Saudi Arabia, met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Tuesday.
The meeting focused on Yemen, where Tillerson said the Saudi bombing campaign against Houthi-held areas of the country has “resulted in civilian casualties”.
He also noted that the Saudis, who have been using the air force, have been accused of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.
But al-Sabah, the spokesman for the Yemeni branch of the Houth, dismissed the claims, saying the coalition is targeting civilian areas, including hospitals, and civilian buildings.
“If you think that the coalition, led by the United Kingdom, is attacking civilian areas with indiscriminate bombs, you should go and visit a hospital in Sanaa, because the hospital is run by the Houthiya,” al-Sabah said.
The Houthis say the coalition has been bombing them for years.
The coalition has also denied using any air force against the Houthitians.