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.