An Eye on Eastern Province
Will Yemen Hostilities Spill into Saudi Arabia?

As the war in Yemen grinds through its second week, a water crisis is looming in Aden and calls for a humanitarian ceasefire are growing. But the next shoe to drop may be stability in Saudi Arabia itself, where a police officer was killed in the Shi’a-majority Eastern province during a raid on suspected terrorists. Reuters:

“An exchange of fire led to the injury of Corporal Majid bin Turki al-Qahtani, and his death after being taken to hospital – may God have mercy on him and accept him as a martyr – and wounded three security men, a citizen, and a (foreign) resident,” with moderate wounds, SPA said.

The agency said forces undertook the search against “terrorist elements” and retrieved automatic weapons, pistols and communication equipment. It added that four Saudis were arrested after the firefight for targeting the officers.

Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province has been unstable ever since protests erupted in 2011. More than 20 people have been killed since then, and Saudi forces killed four militants in a shootout as recently as last December.

A Shi’a revolt in Saudi Arabia could have major consequences. The Shi’a-majority Eastern province also happens to be where much of Saudi Arabia’s oil is found.

Beyond that fact, a fight in Saudi Arabia could pull more countries into the war in Yemen—most notably Pakistan. Pakistan’s Defense Minister admitted today that Saudi Arabia had asked for warships, planes, and troops to help in Yemen. Thus far, mindful of the sensitivities of its own Shi’a minority, and of its relationship with neighboring Iran, Pakistan has been unwilling to commit fully, saying it will only send troops to help defend Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity. If conflict spreads to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan will find it difficult to maintain its delicate balancing act.

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