Bab al Mandab means the “gate of tears,” it is the narrowest point (40 ml wide) at the entrance to the Red Sea, through which all ships and goods flow through the Suez Canal to and from Europe and Asia. As such it is the choke point, the point where an enemy of the West could do the most damage to prevent the normal flow of goods and oil. On the Arabian side whoever controls the country of Yemen could control the Bab al Mandab. In fact the British held the colony of Aden, the nearest port on the Indian Ocean, for 130 years in order to ensure the flow of goods and people to and from the British colony of India. In 1967 Aden became part of the independent country of South Yemen and in 1990 North and South Yemen united into one country.
However, their marriage has been a stormy one and recently the north was taken over by the Houthi Shia rebels (see IsBlog post on 12/02/15). But the Houthis have now moved south to besiege the port of Aden. This has triggered the current crisis that has resulted in the Saudi Arabian military, including their Air Force, making strikes against Houthi targets in the north, including Sanaa, and the south. They have been joined by other Sunni countries including Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States, in making common cause against the Shia rebels. Of course, this has displeased the Iranians who have supported the Houthis, although it is unlikely that Iran at this point will actually send any major components of their military into combat with the Sunni States.
Nevertheless, this is another battle in the proxy wars that are going on between Shia and Sunni combatants throughout the Middle East, from Libya in the west to Yemen in the east, and including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It is not politically correct to celebrate armed conflict nowadays, but in this case both sides are our mortal enemy, they are both extremist Muslims but of different sects. Since both of them are our enemies, we can only applaud the fact that they are fighting each other. If we in Israel have to choose we would choose Egypt and the other Sunni States against Iran and its proxies. Its like the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s, where for 8 years they fought each other to exhaustion. But, this time the stakes are even higher because the whole of the Middle East is involved and it seems, devoid of outside major powers (such as Britain, the US or Russia), there is nothing to stop them fighting it out to the end. We will be happy to sit back and watch. Let the games begin, it will likely end in tears.