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In Your Face Brinksmanship
Iran Sending Armada to Yemen

The war in Yemen is taking a particularly dangerous turn this weekend, with U.S. officials saying that Iran is sending an armada of seven to nine ships into Aden in what looks to be both a provocation and an attempt to rearm the Houthi rebels. The Hill has the details:

U.S. officials say they are unsure why Iran is making the brazen move. One theory they have floated is that the Saudi-led coalition has effectively blockaded any air routes into Yemen and there are no other ways to resupply the Houthis.

Another theory is that Iran is trying to distract the coalition from another ship it has tried hard to conceal that is currently docked at Oman — a potential land route for smuggling arms into Yemen.

Yet another theory is that Iran wants to force a confrontation with Saudi Arabia that it believes it will win, because Iran views the Saudi military as weak and suspects the U.S. lacks the willpower to support its Gulf ally.

Earlier this week, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Twitter taunted Saudi Arabia, calling its military puny and smaller than Israel’s.

It would be hard to imagine the Saudis standing down after they have committed as much as they already have. So if the Iranians want to push this, we could soon be looking at a direct confrontation flaring up between the major powers in the Sunni-Shi’a conflict that has been on a low boil across the Middle East.

The United States has not been actively participating in the naval blockade that the Saudis and Egyptians have set up around Yemen, though the U.S. Navy did ‘consensually board’ a Panamanian vessel in the Red Sea suspected of running arms last week. And the United States has been providing logistical and intelligence support for Saudi Arabia’s air strikes—now already in their fourth week.

Further down the road, if the Iranians’ calculations about relative military might prove correct and the Saudis suffer setbacks, this would present President Obama with an unappetizing choice: directly order attacks on Iranian ships and risk scuttling his long sought-after nuclear deal, or do nothing and watch our Saudi allies flounder.

This latest move must really look like a win-win proposition for Tehran.



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  • jeburke

    It’s designed to force Saudi to back down when the US refuses to back them and in the process to humiliate Obama who Iran already has over a barrel. When you are practically being invited to pursue hegemony by the only global power able to block you, its tough to say no.

    • Ellen

      Precisely. This whole exercise is one of double humiliation. The Iranians are showing that both the Saudis and the Obama administration are empty shells of nothingness. Nonetheless, I still stand by my prediction that the outcome of the Syrian civil war will be what ruins Iran’s imperial ambitions. Khameini himself said that the fall of Damascus will lead to the fall of Teheran (or the regime that rules in Teheran) and I take him at his word. When the Alawite/Shiite clique collapses in Syria because they run out of cannon fodder first, nothing else that Iran is doing in the Middle East will save its reputation. That is the symbolic heart of their imperial adventure and if they fail there by being defeated by a collection of Sunni rebels aided by Turkey, Saudi and Israel – what a motley collection of allies – it will be a defeat heard around the world.

      It will also put an end to Obama’s disastrous foreign policies in that region. He wants Iran to rule the Middle East because they are supposedly a country that understands their own interests. Well, clearly not, otherwise they would not be fighting a losing war of attrition in Syria.

  • Anthony

    “Saudi Arabia and its allies see the war in Yemen as another front in a much larger struggle with Iran for control of the Middle East – one that is also fought in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. It is a conflict with strong sectarian overtones. Iran is a Shia power. Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world. The Houthis, in Saudi eyes, are Iranian pawns, Shia proxies armed and funded by Tehran. It’s this perception that makes the conflict in Yemen much more dangerous, and potentially destabilizing to an already tumultuous region.”

    “The problem with blaming the war in Yemen on Iran and on Sunni-Shia animosity…is that the Houthis have rebelled seven times in the last 12 years, and it is only late that their opposition has been framed as part of a broader sectarian struggle. This is a domestic, indigenous insurrection.”

    Perhaps, there exists more internals (factors contributing) than “outside” interpreters are aware. To that end,”the United States, with little fanfare or public discussion, is effectively at war in Yemen: It may not be dropping bombs, but its drones are guiding Saudi ones.”

    • Dan Greene

      “The problem with blaming the war in Yemen on Iran and on Sunni-Shia animosity…is that the Houthis have rebelled seven times in the last 12 years”

      Yes, exactly.

      • Kevin

        Not really. Long simmering local conflicts can turn into major conflagrations when they become absorbed into rivalries between great powers – we saw this frequently during the Cold War, but it is an ancient pattern. Once this outside intervention occurs, the conflict quickly escalates as both sides patrons’ pour in resources which ramps up the violence but also provides external resources to fall back on which makes ending the dispute (through either defeat or exhaustion) much more difficult. This makes such conflicts qualitatively different from what had preceded, even if they owe their roots to prior animosities.

  • Blackbeard

    Obama’s plan to enable Persian hegemony in the ME is going very well. Who said he was ineffective in foreign affairs?

  • wigwag

    A couple of dolphin class submarines could sink the Iranian armada lickety split for the right price.

    • Ellen

      Are you throwing hints at Netanyahu?

      • f1b0nacc1

        Do you think that he needs any?

  • JR

    If a lot of unemployed useless young men from sect A kill a lot of unemployed useless young men from Sect B and get killed in return is that such a terrible thing at the end of the day. Like in Iran and Iraq war, aren’t we just rooting for casualties at this point? You want off-shore balancing, well, you got it.

  • Dan Greene

    First of all, the Iranians have international law on their side. The Saudi invasion has no backing from the UNSC (despite the vote on embargoing arms to the Houthis.) There is nothing to prevent Iran from showing that it does not recognize the legality of the illegal Saudi blockade.

    Lots of speculation that this is an arms resupply. Perhaps, but what is mostly is is Iran undertaking a demonstration to humiliate Saudi Arabia rather than allowing itself to be humiliated by Saudi Arabia.

    • GS

      ???- as if the international law even applied to the tribals there.

      • Dan Greene

        Yemen is a state in civil war just as our state was once in civil war. Yes, sub-national identities are a particular feature of this civil war, but that is irrelevant to the international law question.

        • GS

          Yemen is not a “state”, but a few tribes with a flag. A “state” presupposes its “people”, who have more or less homogeneous identities and loyalties connected to that “state”. And if these are absent or weak, then the “state” is correspondingly absent or weak.

    • Kevin

      My understanding is that the “President of Yemen” has invited in the Saudis (which is natural as he was partially their creature anyway). One can always find some authority or principal to invite one to intervene. Inter arma enim silent leges.

  • Kevin

    The Iranians are fools if they only see it as win-win. (And whatever else they may be they are not fools.) They may do well (and I fear they will) but if they are seen to actively intervene and then fail their prestige will take a big hit. This could well be there expedition to Sicilit if they overcommit and it doesn’t go well.

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