Demystifying Iran’s hegemonic aims in Yemen

 Iranian President Hassan Rowhani addresses a press conference in Tehran on January 17, 2017, to mark the first anniversary of the implementation of the nuclear deal. (AFP)

by Tony Duheaume

It was during the 30th summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which took place in Kuwait in December 2009, Iran’s attempts at destabilizing Yemen came into the spotlight, when delegates expressed their solidarity with Saudi Arabia over its struggle to repel Shiite Houthi rebels based in north Yemen from their territory.

These rebels were positioned along the edge of Saudi Arabia’s sensitive southern border, they entered Saudi territory in cross-border incursions, and breaching the sovereignty of the kingdom, they struck at targets in blatant acts of aggression.

Where the Iranians are members of the Twelver sect of Islam, the Houthis in the Sa’ada province of northern Yemen are Zaidi Shiites who revere the first four imams of Islam. But with the Iranian offer of weapons to the Four Shiite sect, plus logistical aid, the Iranian regime soon found their new proxy force easy to manipulate. In no time at all, they had the Houthis doing their bidding, in a continued campaign of harassment against both Yemeni And Saudi people.

In November 2009, things really began to hot up between the Houthis and the Saudi government, after the rebels clashed with Saudi border guards in the Jabal Dukhan territory along the kingdom’s border with northern Yemen. In response to the rebel attack, Saudi helicopters carried out a series of forays in areas occupied by the Houthis, killing at least forty insurgents.

With Saudi Arabia always having been viewed by the Iranian clerical regime as a rival in their bid for supremacy of the Middle East, constant threats have been made against the country by its founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, from the moment he had come to power, spouting anti-Saudi rhetoric from almost the instant he took over.

Speeches have been delivered in Iran encouraging the Shiites of Saudi to revolt against their government. Such was Khomeini’s animosity toward Saudi Arabia that he continued with his vitriolic verbal attacks right to the very end, when he denounced them as heathens in his final will and testament.

As far as the Iranians are concerned, with Yemen’s northern border adjacent to Saudi Arabia’s southern border, the Houthis make the perfect proxy force with which to hit out at the kingdom, using this border area as a springboard for armed incursions, in a bid to cause as much instability as possible.

With or without WMDs

With many observers convinced that Iran is still seeking to build nuclear weapons, with which to threaten neighbouring states, Iran Deal or no Iran Deal, with the foothold it has already gained in places like Syria and Iraq, plus its meddling in countries like Yemen, the Iranian regime would eventually become a direct threat to Saudi Arabia, as well as the rest of the Arab world, with or without WMDs.
Should Iran gain a foothold in Yemen, it could eventually setup naval bases along the Red Sea coast, from which it could receive continuous arms supplies via the sea, and by establishing ground forces in the area, it would become a direct threat to shipping, which has to pass through the Bab el-Mandeb chokepoint, in order to navigate the stretch of ocean from the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden or visa-versa.

Then through a strong military presence in this area, Iran would be able to control the supply of goods and weapons to that region, and become a direct threat to the movement of naval forces passing by, in the same way that it has shown can be done in the Strait of Hormuz.

Any shipping travelling through the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and on to the Arabian Sea, have no choice but to pass through the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which is located along the coastline of Eritrea and Djibouti on one side and Yemen on the other.

So should the Iranians eventually control the coastline of Yemen, they could then become a potent threat to shipping, in the way they demonstrated can be achieved in the Strait of Hormuz during the Iran/Iraq War, when merchant ships were routinely harassed by seaborne vessels, and the sea was mined, which eventually holed an American frigate.

But since that time, the Iranians have developed asymmetric naval warfare to such a chilling degree, it can use fleets of Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC) and specially adapted fast attack speedboats equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, with a strategy of overwhelming US warships using swarm tactics.

There have already been threats made against the West, should the US decide to bomb Iranian nuclear installations, which include closing down the Strait of Hormuz by mining this crucial waterway, which is a vital artery to the West for its oil supplies.

The Gulf waters

To point out how this could be achieved, military manoeuvres have already been carried out by the IRGC in Gulf waters, with the regime showing how its fast attack boats could quite easily carry out suicide missions against oil tankers travelling through this watercourse, as well as harass US naval vessels, which could eventually cause heavy losses to the US navy.

Before a Saudi-led coalition had entered the Yemeni conflict in 2015, although fierce attacks were taking place across the border at Saudi targets, the conflict had remained mostly an internal struggle between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government.

Then with Iran stepping in to aid the Shiite rebel force, they began to ship the insurgents, tons of weapons, shells and explosives, in a bid to use them as a proxy force against the Saudis, and at this point, the conflict took on a whole new meaning.

If Iran was allowed to use the Houthi rebels to gain a foothold in the area, its IRGC naval force could soon set up naval bases along the Yemeni coast, and by doing so, the Iranian regime would be able to effectively close this vital waterway, in conjunction with the Strait of Hormuz, causing an unprecedented stranglehold on all shipping in both areas, which is why this proxy rebel force has to be confronted.

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