Confronting Iran ? President Trump entering uncharted waters in Yemen (1)


By Patrick Bahzad

"I need not tell you, Sir, that the
Red Sea is as much closed as the Gulf"
(from 20 000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne)

So this is where President Trump apparently decided to make his first significant foreign policy move. Not in Iraq or Syria, as part of the fight against ISIS and other Jihadi groups, not in Ukraine, which has seen a recent flare-up in combat. But in Yemen, at the Strait of Mandeb, the "Gate of Tears". Push back against Iran is the scent of the day in D.C. and the new administration has picked the most unseemingly place for it. American concern for what is going on in Yemen is understandable and may call for closer monitoring. Aggressive moves in the Red Sea however, or in Yemen itself, bear tremendous risks. The Bab-el-Mandeb, as its name indicates, has always been treacherous waters.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump had already hinted at his determination to take on Iran. He had stressed the need for a more confrontational approach and condemned the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had signed with Tehran, literally threatening to tear it up. As President, he has now backed away from such drastic measures, but heightened tensions with Iran became apparent as soon as he took over at the White House.

Ominous signs

Twitter warnings by "The Real Donald Trump" were followed by Iran test firing a ballistic as well as a cruise missile, which may or may not constitute violations of the Nuclear Deal and UNSC resolution 2231. Additionally, in what might be considered an unrelated incident, Houthi forces in Yemen launched an attack against a Saudi frigate, killing two sailors and seriously damaging the ship.

This combination of events triggered National Security Advisor Mike Flynn into putting Iran "on notice", an expression devoid of any meaning in international diplomacy and therefore probably all the more dangerous. The escalation is pretty obvious and additional US sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities only added to it.

But it is not just White House executives like "National Security Advisor" Mike Flynn and "Chief Strategist" Steve Bannon who seem on board with the tough talk about Iran. James Mattis, the newly appointed Secretary of Defence and presumably a voice of reason within the new administration, recently dubbed Iran "the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world". With statements by senior members of the White House and the Cabinet being that unanimous, a feature not necessarily obvious when you look at the short track record of the new Presidency, it is pretty clear that there is now a very deliberate policy shift towards Iran.

Where this is going to take us is hard to say, most likely, not a good place judging by the people in charge and the measures they are contemplating. The most striking thing however about this renewed fixation on Iran is the country chosen to confront the Mullahs. Indeed, why pick small, impoverished and war-ridden Yemen to put the squeeze on Iran ? The answer to that question may already give insights as to what the future has in store for us in that part of the world.

Chaos in Yemen

Yemen has mostly been in the headlines since the Saudis and the GCC began their "Operation Decisive Storm" in 2015. Interfering in their Southern neighbours' business is nothing new for the Saudis, even though in this case, they chose to go in with military force. But Yemen had already been a mess since at least 2004, when the Zaidi Houthis – named after their founder, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi – rose up against local strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In 2011, Saleh lost his grip on Yemen's presidency as a consequence of the "Arab Spring" which also swept away the regime in Sanaa. In a reversal of alliances that Saleh was customary to, he then sided with the Houthis and parts of the army. In 2015, Saleh's army and Houthis forces finally were in a position to overrun much of Central Yemen, almost pushing as far as Aden in the South and Mocha in the South-West (on the coast to the Red Sea).

This was probably too much for the Saudis to stomach, given that there were already rumours about Iranian weapons and advisors helping out Houthi forces at that point. Contrary to the Shia of Southern Lebanon however, the Houthis do not belong to the same branch of Shiism as the Iranians. Branding them as "Iranian proxies" for that reason alone, as seems to be the argument put forward by some think tankers, only points to fundamental ignorance about diversity in beliefs and culture. The Houthis, or rather their Zaidi forefathers, were certainly not considered Iranian proxies when the Saudis supported them in the bloody civil war against Egyptian backed opponents, back in the 1960s.

Operation "Decisive Storm"

In 2015 however, things had changed and the battle for regional hegemony was in full swing between Saudi-Arabia and Iran, or from a broader sectarian perspective, between the Sunni and Shia of the Middle-East. Inexperienced Royals in the Saudi cabinet thought they could make an example of impoverished Yemen, achieving a quick victory and showing their lukewarm allies in D.C., as well as their foes in Tehran, that they were now a force to be reckoned with. Their operation however quickly turned into a P.R. disaster.

Saudi ground forces do not exactly have a fearsome reputation, and this showed time and again in their unsuccessful attempts at driving back the Houthi warriors into their mountainous homeland. Other than the Saudi airforce's reckless airstrikes, which have cost many civilians their lives and brought the country closer to humanitarian disaster, the Saudi military intervention has proven futile. On the ground, in Central and Northern Yemen, the Saudis will never muster a force capable of any significant advance.

Not even allied troops and private mercenary armies will do the trick. Meanwhile, anarchy has taken over parts of Yemen that were reasonably quiet before the Saudis went in. Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula managed to extend its area of influence and even ISIS has taken a foothold in South-Eastern Yemen.

As for the US, their footprint got lighter with Yemen descending into chaos. Al Anad Air Base, which served as a launch pad for many US drone strikes against AQAP over a number a years, was closed when the last US special forces left in March 2015. Ever since then, US camps in Djibouti have taken over the task of hitting the Jihadis. Recent developments however, like the botched SEAL Team 6 raid in January, as well as increased US Navy presence in and around the Red Sea, are indicators of a gear shift in the fight against AQAP and Co.

 The Houthis, an Iranian proxy ?

The presence of the local AQ franchise, considered the most effective and most advanced one in a number of areas, may also be one of the reasons why the Trump administration decided to make a move in Yemen. By putting a marker there, the President and his advisors want to show their determination to fight radical Islamism of any credence, which is very much in line with various reports and statements made by a number of current WH officials and advisors.

However, as far as Iranian influence on Yemeni Houthis is concerned, the case is not easy to make. There are most definitely Iranian advisors in Yemen, but their numbers are unknown and in all likelihood, there would be very few of them. On several occasions, Anti-Houthi forces in the South claimed to have arrested Iranians, during the fighting around Aden in particular, but the evidence trail is thin.

And making any case about Iranian meddling in Yemen will take much more than a borderline incompetent interpretation of the Houthis chanting "God is great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam" as they take on a Saudi frigate with remote controlled torpedo drones. Admittedly, the slogan is not exactly testimony to the Houthis wish for peaceful coexistence.

But inferring from it that the Houthis may actually have been targeting US ships, possibly through seaborne suicide attacks, reflects sheer ignorance about the slogan's genesis and Houthi goals in the current conflict. They certainly are not doing themselves a favour if they want to avoid confrontation with the White House, but those within the administration who have been looking for an excuse to step up military efforts, certainly have one now. In this regard, sending in the "USS Cole" down there is probably not a coincidence either.

Strategic importance of the Mandeb Strait

To be fair, Yemen and the Mandeb Strait certainly feature in good place in Tehran's regional strategy. This is probably where we need to look at, more than at any move made by the Houthis themselves, if we want to understand strategic thinking behind Washington's recent decisions (assuming of course, there is something like a strategy at work here, which is not a given).

From an Iranian point of view, President Trump's first statements as far as they are concerned revolve along two lines: on the one hand, making sure the Iranians comply with every provision of the nuclear deal they signed, and on the other, rolling back Tehran's "nefarious" influence in the region. It is in this context that Iranian moves need to be analysed.

The test firing of missiles is certainly one way for the Iranians to probe American limits and red lines, should there be any. Presumably, they also want to find out what kind of reaction the crossing of any line in the sand might have. Trump has proven he can back away from boastful statements with relative ease, when he realizes that delivering on what he promised might actually not be such a great idea. The Iranians are clever, proficient and subtle operators. Discounting their abilities as well as their duplicity might be ill advised. Yemen in that regard will prove a good test both for the Iranians and for Trump.

Undoubtedly, there are a couple of sharp brains in the new administration (well, at least one), albeit some of their thinking on Iran may still be a legacy from past experiences in Iraq, not necessarily helpful in the present days. Flynn, Mattis, but also other senior personnel like Rayburn and Harvey seem convinced of the Iranian "uber"-influence in the US military's failure in Iraq. How much of their resentment about US casualties at the hands of Iranian proxies or IRGC members plays into their current posture is difficult to assess.There certainly is a subjective, emotional component to it, but there are also tangible indicators to back-up their claims.

Long term Iranian efforts

Put in simple terms, the Iranians have now committed to not developping any nuclear arsenal. There is strong reason to believe they will abide by those rules, considering that they would have much more to lose than to gain if they decided otherwise. Additionally, they have a much easier option at hand, one that offers nearly as many guarantees as a nuclear device pointed at Washington, Riyadh or Tel Aviv for that matter.

For a number of years, the Iranians have systematically extended their area of influence in the Middle-East, way beyond anything they had managed to achieve since the days of emperor Darius III (roughly 330 B.C.). Theirs is not an empire anymore, not in the traditional sense, but an "empire by proxies". In an painstaking effort that took them several decades, they managed to establish a strong foothold in Lebanon, through Hezbollah, and in Gaza, through Hamas. Both organisations have a domestic agenda but also work as force projection tools of Iranian foreign policy towards Israel in particular.

During the US intervention in Iraq, Iranian agents had a field day infiltrating various levels of government, setting up sectarian armed groups and parties that were friendly to their interests, while at the same time making sure American forces got bogged down in the fight against various factions of Sunni insurgents, among them the predecessor group to Baghdadi's "Islamic State". Finally, in Bashar Al-Assad's Syria, they managed to cultivate a client State that had no allies left after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Yemen's Houthis fit into this picture as something intermediary between a proxy militia and a client State. Again, it needs to be stressed that the Houthis are by no means an Iranian pawn, but they cannot dismiss the help that Tehran is offering them. Iran also made similar moves towards the Shia majority of Bahraïn and has extended an olive branch to Oman, the only GCC country that is not participating in Saudi intervention in Yemen.

The "choke point" strategy

These Iranian efforts however are not random. They follow a long term logic and rationale that is fully apparent in Yemen as well. Short of launching a ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead against any enemy force threatening vital Iranian interests, what is the next best thing Tehran could do ? Well, for one thing, they might interrupt international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, as they have threatened to do time and again ever since the mid-1980s.

They certainly do have the ability to do so temporarily, and in particular they could interdict transit of oil and gas tankers for a period long enough to send the global economy into deep recession. That they would finally be on the losing end of such a move does not make a difference, because their main foe in the region, i.e. the Saudis, would probably not be able to recover from such a disaster. The US too would be seriously affected, either directly (through effects on the American economy itself) or indirectly (through the impact on US' main trading partners in Europe and the Far East).

Iranian strategists realized however that holding the key to the Hormuz "choke point" might not be enough to have a dissuasive effect on their adversaries. Saudi-Arabia in particular has access to the Red Sea and manages to ship a significant part of its oil production through the Yanbu port infrastructure there. To choke off the Saudis, the Iranians needed to get a hold either of the pipelines that carried Saudi and Gulf oil to its recipients in the West and Far East, or they needed to be in a position where they interrupt shipping routes used to carry those fuels to the aforementioned recipients.

Looking at a map of the wider Middle-East, it appears the Iranians have managed just that, or almost. Their grip on the Strait of Hormuz is as strong as ever, at least they are still in a position to temporarily check any effort of the US forces to break it. They also improved their ballistic missile capabilities and could therefore target Saudi oil installations at Abqaiq or Ras Tanura for example, or even the Fifth Fleet HQ in Bahraïn. They also have control over Iraqi militias and parts of the government, which allows them to interdict any Saudi oil from transiting through Iraq if they wished to do so. As mentioned above, they can count on Hezbollah in Lebanon and have made sure Assad's government will remain in power for as long as the conflict in Syria goes on.

To be continued: part (2).

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47 Responses to Confronting Iran ? President Trump entering uncharted waters in Yemen (1)

  1. phodges says:

    Great overview.
    I would just suggest that Iran does not “control” any of these proxies- it can not order them to act against their own interests, as the US does with Europe for example.
    When Hezbollah or various groups would respond is when they calculated they were about to lose their benefactor, and had nothing else to lose. I am not sure how much my distinction would alter the strategic calculus.
    I would also consider it a good sign that Trump is going after a proxy on the periphery that can’t really harm us, rather than directly assaulting Iran, which would bring a rapid end to US hegemony and political stability, at home and abroad.

  2. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    re: “I would also consider it a good sign that Trump is going after a proxy on the periphery that can’t really harm us, rather than directly assaulting Iran,…”
    ??? Why is it a good sign?
    I wish DT and his team would stop going off half-cocked. As PB has indicated above, as Col. Lang has indicated many times before, and as we, Turks, remember quite well from more than a century ago, it is not a good idea to get involved in Yemen unless you must. IMO KSA is going to get its ass handed to it in this fight. Wait and see.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  3. Lemur says:

    “When Hezbollah or various groups would respond is when they calculated they were about to lose their benefactor, and had nothing else to lose”
    good point. the nodal structure of the ‘Shia crescent’ increases resilience and ensures resentments from overt control from the ‘metropole’ (Tehran) don’t get in the way of securing common interests.

  4. Lemur says:

    Great article Mr Bahzad. Objective, analytic summation of the situation. Learned a lot.
    If Trump gets America into a war with Iran, he will have betrayed the spirit of his campaign, irreparably damaged Western power, and hurt the prospects of the conservative revolutionary project.

  5. Larry Kart says:

    Mattis is Secretary of Defense, Tillitson is Secretary of State.

  6. Kooshy says:

    PB, IMO you are very correct the structure of resistance front ( mainly Shia moinority of west Asia under Iran’ umbrella ) is a natural formed community based on self interest. Is not necessarily an economic based community. For this reason (security) IMO, since it is a communally maintained, collective security structure, it is hard to brake up or eliminate ( even in case of Iraq and Afghanistan’ Shia) unless all threats to all groups are eliminated. I have wrote here many times, from what I understand historically the major existential threat this naturally formed security alliance feels, and recives, is from the extrimist sunnis and not necessarily US or Israel, they do not see US or Israel as existential or permanent threat.

  7. Kooshy says:

    I can’t see nor I believe presisdent Trump will have a war with Iran, or most likely with anybody else. I still think it’s his (president Trump) ask for sky and negotiate down style of business negotiation that now includes showing state of art gunboats, if it can help to get something more. I don’t think this kind of threats will work or is a good policy with nation states, likes of Iran, China, Russia, India, etc.
    At the end of the day, like in business negotiation, if the threats and walking away from the deal don’t work, you will be left at a disadvantage, like what just happened with one china policy. IMO, the recent rhturic coming out of The administration on thier Iran policy,US has positioned herself in more disadvantageous position than before. She basically doesn’t have too many good cards in this game.

  8. Thirdeye says:

    Is Hamas really aligned with Iran? I always thought it was a Sunni-supported Muslim Brotherhood project.

  9. You’re right of course !

  10. kooshy says:

    just Strategically, and IMO more tactically for both sides

  11. Valissa says:

    Thanks for the overview! Great job of putting all the pieces together in an intelligible form.
    OT, but I think many ehre wil be glad of this news…
    Trump rejects veteran GOP foreign policy aide Elliott Abrams for State Department job

  12. Brunswick says:

    “They certainly are not doing themselves a favour if they want to avoid confrontation with the White House, but those within the administration who have been looking for an excuse to step up military efforts, certainly have one now. In this regard, sending in the “USS Cole” down there is probably not a coincidence either.”
    There are no “favours” that the Revolutionary Commitee can do for themselves, vis a vi, with the US, as long as they continue to resist Saudi domination of Yemen.
    They have nothing to lose by continuing to fight, and nothing to gain in accomodation or surrender.

  13. BraveNewWorld says:

    Hamas used to be 60% aligned with KSA/Qatar and 40% aligned with Iran. The missiles mostly came from Iran and the money from KSA/Qatar. A couple of years ago when things started to heat up between Iran/KSA the King went all GWB and told them your either with Iran or you are with us. Hamas mostly cut ties with Iran at that time which has cost Hamas. They still have some contact but not that much. Mind you Bibi still describes Gaza like it is downtown Bagdad.
    Missing in the article is that if Iran was attacked in a major way Iran would attack Israel. There are a number of reasons for that. First every one in the region would be in a position where they have to choose side with Israel or Iran. Iran has lost that one in the past but it it would be more complex now.
    The other reason they would hit Israel is that they see all the hostility pointed at them from the US being at the urging of Israel and the Saudis.
    “The test firing of missiles is certainly one way for the Iranians to probe American limits and red lines, should there be any. ”
    With no real airforce, nuclear weapons and many other weapons available to them, Iran is mostly butt naked against many players armed to the teeth by the US. There is nothing that will stop them from developing their missiles as this really is an existential matter. It would be useful for Washington to keep that in mind.

  14. Henshaw says:

    Timely article on Trump and Iran by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent
    Takeaway quote is probably
    ‘This administration is so heavily loaded with crackpots, fanatics and amateurs, that it would be optimistic to imagine that they will pass safely through the political swamplands of the Middle East without detonating a crisis with which they cannot cope.’

  15. Bill Herschel says:

    This enormously readable and enlightening article, not its main intent, can be read to answer the question, “Why is there a single American soldier in the ME?”
    What is not directly said by the article is perhaps though the most important. The word “proxy” comes up again and again. The U.S. doesn’t seem to have any reliable proxies in the ME. KSA and IDF aren’t helping us. What is the ratio of American service personnel deaths to IDF deaths over the past 10-20 years? KSA?
    And now we have Trump telling us that the most recent death of an American soldier was a “victory”. How long will the American public buy this nonsense? Forever?
    In closing, I award the Edward Bernays award for 2017 to Congressman Eliot Engel, high school guidance counselor, liberal paragon, and ravening war monger outside our borders. He has a street named after him in Kosovo’s capital.

  16. MartinJ says:

    Last I heard was that the political wing of Hamas was under Qatari sponsorship but the military wing inside Gaza (the Izz al-Din Qassam Battalions) had deep links into Iran dating back to the early 90s.

  17. MartinJ says:

    the Huthis are a very naive group and IMO still very much at the mercy of Saleh. In fact I suspect all the attacks on shipping off Bab al-Mandab were carried out by Saleh under the Huthi “flag”. Ditto for the missile attacks on the Saudis. The message from the old rogue being (to the Saudis) to deal with him and he will deal with their “problem” with the Huthis.
    In this way its similar to how Saleh bigged-up the AQ threat in order to gain US support and money. He pulled the strings and even had his men acting as AQ in this grand charade. This era has now come to a close as the US no longer wants to play that game, nor needs to.
    I believe, like you, that Trump is going to use Yemen as an “easy” means of serving notice on Iran. There are more tools at the disposal of the Saudis and US, and a freer hand than it has in Lebanon, Syria or Iraq.

  18. kooshy says:

    Yes i also think if there is an attack on Iran, this time it will not be isolated to iran borders, the reason is not just iran is all the other actors that their security is tide to Iran or all the actors that relay on KSA, Gulf financial support, Israel will be attacked just because of street propaganda of it to force Sunnis side with israel and loose street level support, and shia be the victims fighting Islam’ war. As per ME’s long history and usual politics god damned complicated, a complicated chess board.

  19. Castellio says:

    Good news, yes. But what an odd article.
    It makes the rejection of Abrams both petulant and personal, and against the wishes of Tillerson. I have doubts that is the case.
    It also conveniently ignores Abrams role in both Latin America and the Iraq war, but does mention the Iran-contra scandal. Mind you, his guilty plea is saved for the second to last paragraph, immediately countered by the Presidential pardon.
    In my estimation, the mainstream media’s attacks on Trump are a function of his acceptance, or not, of neo-con influence and policies.

  20. kooshy says:

    You mean Tillerson

  21. kooshy says:

    It is a good news but at the end of the day I am afraid Borg will inject in, someone else of equal value.

  22. AriusArmenian says:

    If Trump tries to buddy up to Russia while attacking Iran it will not break the Russia/China/Iran alliance. They know what the US is about and what it does. Russia and China will not allow the US to bring down Iran.
    A US attack on Iran will lead directly to WW3. Unfortunately Trump and his people seem to be taking us in that direction.
    The US should be standing with the people of Yemen against the Saudis. It is sad to see the US acting more like the Germans in WW2.

  23. Pundita says:

    This is just a great briefing, best available to the public that I’ve seen, at a time when the road ahead is fogbound. Thank you.
    My largest concern is that Trump’s defense advisors are fanatically anti-Iran and wouldn’t mind sacrificing Syria in order to block Iran in the country and of course also Hezbollah.
    I will go further — my concern is fast becoming a fear that there is no reasoning with the factions in the defense/fp establishment that want to take down both Russia and Iran, with Syria as collateral damage.
    The problem is that the bench isn’t just thin; it does not exist yet for establishing a Trump Doctrine, as Trump sketched it during his campaign.

  24. Pundita says:

    This was the best news I’d had all week, but if Trump picks Dobriansky for the No. 2 slot, this would be going from the frying pan into the fire.

  25. Old Microbiologist says:

    Personally, I see nothing to gain in any ME interventions. I felt Ron Paul’s idea of bringing home all the troops closing every overseas base, and cutting off all foreign aid to everyone were the right way to go. We are supposedly completely oil independent so there is no economic reason to be involved at all in the Middle East. Israel needs to learn how to live on it’s own and how to get along with its neighbors without American dependence. We are $20 trillion in debt which is only tolerated as we inserted ourselves as the world’s reserve currency. Arguably, every country we have toppled for the past 20 years are those which abandoned the dollar as the trading currency. Iran has recently done it as well. Both Russia and China are making rapid inroads towards developing alternate currency trading using local currency and avoiding the dollar altogether. Most Americans are unaware that every currency transaction in the world is handled through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which is the leverage we use to make all the secret accounts open to the US. The SWIFT system is completely controlled by the US and is the choke point for all currency transactions. These alternatives are already functional and some countries like Japan are already transitioning to it. I will add that this move was forced due to the sanctions against Russia and China. The US has been actively attempting to destroy all the BRICS countries and we see the effects with the demonetization in India, the replacement of the government in Brazil, the escalation of conflicts with both Russia and China etc.
    What always baffles me about Iran is we caused the removal of a democratically elected President and replaced him with a monstrous king. Then we went all in to try and keep him on the throne then declared war against the Islamic Republic that replaced the Shaw. All that time, beginning with the oil embargo, and the 9/11 terrorist acts, Saudi Arabia has clearly been acting as our active enemy. Funding jihadists including Al Qaeda and ISIS should be enough to prove we have been backing the wrong sides in the ME. If that is intolerable then we should depart the region. The world would be a lot better off.

  26. LondonBob says:

    A great relief, pleased to see Rand Paul take such an active role in voicing his displeasure.
    Given the media’s issues with the truth I am not sure how much is true but it would worry me if Tillerson had sought to recruit Abrams. Claims also Bannon was key opponent of Abrams. I like Thiel and Bannon, good influences as far as I am concerned.

  27. b says:

    thanks, a good piece. Hope you don’t mind when I disagree on some issues.
    There is little to no evidence that Iran is actively supporting the Houthi. There were contacts and some intelligence training through Hizbullah before the Saudi war on Yemen but since it started nothing has come to the fore. No Iranian’s weapons have been seen on the ground, no Iranian or Hizbullah advisors. The Daus the U.S. military claims were smuggling weapons to Yemen were on the way to Somalia (confirmed by the Australian Navy which caught some of them). Their load was old stuff not useful in Yemen. The Saudis and their proxies are losing so much weapons to the Houthi that there is no lack of good, modern stuff.
    Indeed at times the Houthi publicly rejected any Iranian interference. When the Iranians asked the Houthi not to take Sanaa the Houthi ignored them.
    AlQaeda in Yemen has some old timers from the Afghanistan war but the younger folks are all Yemenis on Saudi payrolls. (ISIS in Yemen is identical to AlQaeda according to Yemenis themselves. The same personal switching the label when convenient.)
    The BBC even showed footage of “AlQaeda” fighting on the side of other Saudi proxies under former president Hadi. After the SEAL raid the Saudi proxy Hadi government lamented publicly that the SEALs had attacked its allies in the fight against the Houthi. The Yemeni ambassador to U.S. said that the “highest level” in the U.S. government know that this were the case.
    There is a hidden fight going on between the Saudis and the UAE in south Yemen. The UAE wants the Yemeni ports under its DP World harbor management control. The Saudis want the Yemeni oil ports for additional export pipelines that avoid the Street of Hormuz.
    The Saudi proxy al-Qaeda attacked UAE forces in south Yemen several times. The SEAL raid against those Saudi proxies was accompanied by UAE special forces.
    Hamas does not get Iranian support since it took sides against the Syrian president Assad. It is not a part of “the resistance” and would not be counted on to act against Israel.
    Last month Oman formally joined the Saudi alliance against Yemen. It closed all its official border crossings to Yemen.
    The Saudis long recognized they can not defeat the Houthi on the battle field. They are systematically starving them. The borders are closed, the coasts are blocked. The UN is bribed or blackmailed and hindered. It is not allowed to deliver food. Ten thousands are starving. Soon it will be millions. Reporting on that is sparse. The world looks aside.
    In all – I do not see an Iranian strategy of closing the Mandib street. It would be pretty much impossible anyway and using Yemen for that purpose is dubious. All coast areas in Yemen are outside of Houthi core territory.
    Hormuz can be closed for a long time unless the U.S. invades Iran. Iran has lots of other leverage in the area. It can threaten all U.S. bases and all significant oil production. It can take U.S. forces hostage in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan via various proxy forces. It can escalate against Israel.
    I do not see any possibility to attack Iran via Yemen. To interfere there is more a move to pamper the Saudis who will have to buy trillions of treasuries Trump will print and throw on the markets.
    When the U.S. sinks into the Yemeni quagmire the Iranian rulers will sit back, watch and laugh their asses off.

  28. alba etie says:

    And I think it was last night ( or night before ) that President Trump & Secretary of State Tillerson dined in at the White House with Shel Adelson the number one Bibi financial donor & supporter . ( Mr Adelson has that Macua gambling concession that apparently is an unprecedented money generate for the www Likud …) .All of this chest thumping towards Iran is directly linked to the Ziocons that have infiltrated the new USA administration . We shall see how this affects your self described conservative revolutionary project , …especially if we really do move the US Embassy to Jerusalem . (BIGLY SIGH ) ..what could possible go wrong – well at least for the moment we have reinstated the One China Policy …

  29. Mr Bahzad – it’s instructive that in this wide ranging examination of US foreign policy in this area European “interests” or involvement are not included in the analysis. Does this indicate that the Europeans are being side-lined, or is continued European support assumed?

  30. H, is that the “feel good” quote of the week ? hope it won’t come to this !

  31. MartinJ,
    Yes Saleh is an “indie” player in this game, but he’s a force in his own right. How long has he been around again ? For that reason alone, he should not be under-estimated. Maybe engaging him in some way would be more fruitful than antagonising him and the houthis any further ?
    Guess you’re right about Yemen being a soft spot for what some ppl in the administration have in mind. I’m not sure however once things are set in motion, that it would remain a soft spot for long. How long have the Houthis been fighting for now ? and how did the fathers and grand-fathers fight in the 60s ? We should be cautious about history and don’t forget about its lessons.

  32. AA,
    You’re free to have an strong opinion on this topic, but I don’t think there’s any comparison between the US today and the Germans in WW2. I encourage you to use more relevant analogies in the future, might actually carry more weight.

  33. mauisurfer,
    I don’t think I analysed Iran’s intentions, I tried to describe some of the thinking behinds their moves in the region and why Yemen might matter to them in that regard.
    More generally, a State acts according to its (perceived) interests, whether that means “being helpful to the US” or on the contrary “backing up anti-US proxies”.
    Thx for the link to the Bacevich piece. I fully agree, as you may find out if you read the 2nd part of my piece about Yemen.

  34. LeaNder says:

    “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”
    Patrick, since I read your article yesterday, the last two paragraphs seem to have gone. Now incidentally, it ended on a theme my mind has been circling around more vaguely too lately. Obviously without your military expertise and knowledge.
    But concerning the above. Yes it feels we are partly back in a mental context reminiscent of about a decade ago after Operation Iraqi Freedom, slightly post mission accomplished. Randomly put: let’s take out the main state sponsor. It may be even more focused now. Since it feels the talk then was about plural sponsors and now we its “the” sponsor:
    thanks, interesting.

  35. kooshy says:

    I am not sure if it is correct to assume that Iran just became powerful after the US’ failed policy of attacking Iraq. There is a political load to that,the load is to say Iran’s power was generated by an outside state, regardless of, if it was given to her at will ( like US’ support for KSA or Israel etc.), or by a mistake like in a zero sum geopolitical game. Iran gained more power due to Iraq fall, but as an independent state( the only one in western asia) Iran was (soft) powerful already.
    Iran has been a powerful state because of her geostrategic location and his demography throughout her history. Iran, after her revolution, at odds with all her neighbours, both superpowers and their european allies, was able to fight Saddam for 8 years on her own, while saddam was militarily and financially helped from all sides even protected at sea. You don’t think that was powerful. States get their main power, (their good power) from internal support and their constituencies.

  36. kooshy says:

    “When the U.S. sinks into the Yemeni quagmire the Iranian rulers will sit back, watch and laugh their asses off.”
    This is already the case with Saudi, and UAE being down in the Yemen swamp hole.

  37. DH says:

    This is good news for China. They’re already doing well in Africa.

  38. LeaNder says:


  39. Valissa says:

    “both petulant and personal”
    So many articles on the Trump administration are like bad attempts at ‘Kremlinology’… what is really going in the court of the President is often the subject of biased speculation in the MSM. Not trustworthy. I am highly skeptical of the accuracy of any so-called insights into the dynamics of the President’s inner circle.

  40. Valissa says:

    Agreed. The Borg is vast and powerful, with many minions who have big career ambitions. Pax Americana is THE empire of our time… with opportunities to play power games galore for those who reach the highest ranks of empire. The question is merely what flavor of imperialism is favored.
    The neocons went blatantly against Trump, so they are persona non grata. However, given Trumps strong connections to Israel the Ziocons are coming to the forefront. Bannon is no Ziocon, but he is not the only person who has the President’s ear. Trump has signaled in many ways that he is strongly pro Israel, though what specific directions that takes remain to be seen. Probably depends on how large the Ziocon faction ends up being.
    Much as I wish the US would stop playing it’s imperial games in the sandbox of the Middle East, it’s not going to happen… no matter who is president. Best we can hope for is less chaos and less death and destruction, and possibly some slightly more constructive trends.

  41. DH says:

    “At the end of the day, like in business negotiation, if the threats and walking away from the deal don’t work, you will be left at a disadvantage,”
    Long ago Col. Lang said that in the ME negotiation doesn’t begin until the end goal is established.
    It may be that Iran understands the wild-west American temperament and is willing to that into account up to a point.

  42. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Iranians took advantage of the opportunities that was presented to them – say like US did after World War II; USSR had won that war but US emerged as the international colossus bestriding the globe.
    It all goes back to the Iran-Iraq War during which Iran and Iranians were pushed too far – as the American idiom goes.
    The wise policy would have been to leave them alone to sort out their own problems after the Iranian Revolution in 1979; but all these presidents, kings, prime ministers, and assorted other potentates could leave that one well alone.
    In regards to Hezbollah; Israelis murdered wantonly many Shia Arabs in Lebanon; their usual modus operandi with Palestinians was extended to the Shia Arabs as well. (Greek news papers at that time carried many reports on the behavior of Israelis.)
    That is when the Shia ran to Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini instructed the Iranian leaders to help the Shia in Lebanon: “Teach them how to fish…” was his sage advise.
    Again, there were all those presidents, kings, prime ministers, and other potentates who thought that Israelis invading Lebanon was a dandy idea. Well, for them it was not; that was when the small Iranian presence grew in Lebanon.
    And yet, we had the repeat of the same policy when US invaded Iraq in 2003 as well as in the case of the Syrian Civil War.
    37 years of war, initiated not by Iran but by her enemies.
    You cannot protect people from the consequence of their own actions.

  43. Henshaw says:

    I hope so too, but I would never underestimate their capacity for making a bad situation worse.
    Thank you for two excellent articles.

  44. elaine says:

    b, Thanks for mentioning Dubai Ports World. Back in 2006 I was totally
    opposed to the U.S. allowing them to take over all the main ports in the country, another GWB fantasy miraculously foiled.

  45. StoneHouse says:

    “both petulant and personal”
    Add to the bumbling Kremlinology aspect the fact that DJT, and probably Bannon as well, make a study of actively trolling and mis-directing the press. I don’t believe a damned thing I read in the media about this administration; all is speculation even among the best analysts. Also I tend, for now, to caucus with those who believe there is a deeper game afoot which has yet to reveal itself clearly. Eighteen months will tell the tale. Just glad I am not watching HRC maneuver.

  46. Tunde says:

    The reason I visit SST. Much to read and ponder from PB and b.
    Carry on gents.

  47. turcopolier says:

    b has his own blog. Hint … pl

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