On September 10th , 2014, President Obama, in a speech, included the following “…This strategy of taking out the terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years…”
On February 10th 2015, Jen Psaki, State Department spokesperson read the following statement: “…Due to the uncertain security situation in Sana’a, the Department of State has decided to suspend our embassy operations and our embassy staff have been temporarily relocated out of Sana’a’s area…The United States remains firmly committed to supporting all Yemenis who continue to work toward a peaceful, prosperous and unified Yemen. We will explore options for a return to Sana’a when the situation on the ground improves…” This was followed by a total evacuation of U.S. Military personnel, including commandos, Green Berets and Navy Seals. After last week’s massive bombings of two Shiite mosques in Sana’a which killed 142 worshippers and wounded scores of others, the Houthi Shiite rebels ordered a general mobilization and sent their forces south to fight Al Qaeda and militant groups, forcing the Yemeni President to flee to the southern port of Aden.
On March 25th, President Abdu-Rabbu-Mansour Hadi fled the country by sea on a boat from Aden as the Houthi rebels captured his defense minister and seized the city’s airport. On the same day, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies launched air strikes in Yemen against Houthi fighters. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait issued a joint statement saying that they ‘decided to repel Houthi militias, Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the country” and that “President Hadi requested immediate support by all means necessary” Abdel-al-Jubir, Saudi envoy to Washington made the following declaration: “Having Yemen fail is not an option for us”.
For Saudi Arabia, who prefers the rent-an-army approach, to become directly involved in the fight, it must view the situation as posing a critical and existential threat to its survival and indeed it does, as a cursory look at any regional map will confirm. Iran, the Shiite power in the region already controls Syria and Lebanon and has a firm foothold in Iraq, where Iraqi Shiite militias, with Iranian artillery support and military advisers, spearhead the offensive to retake Tikrit from ISIS. In the South, Iranian control of Yemen through their Houthi proxies would put them some 712 miles from Mecca and what is no less problematic, Houthi control of the port city of Aden places them in de facto control of the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, the 18 mile-wide gateway to the Red Sea and eventually the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal. Closure of the strait would keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal. There is an oil pipeline running East to West that traverses Saudi Arabia and that could bypass the northbound oil traffic but it will do nothing to open the southbound traffic. There is more than oil going through the strait and its closure means closure of the Suez Canal, adding some 4300 miles to South Asia bound shipping by forcing it to go around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The converse would also be true. In addition, the whole western coastline of Saudi Arabia lies on the Red Sea with Mecca less than 100 miles from the shore. Is it then surprising that the Saudis, the Sunni leaders in the area, reacted in the manner they did? The response will not be limited to air attacks but further military intervention by Saudi, Egyptian and other forces will go forward after the air strikes weaken the Houthi positions, as Egyptian military officials told the AP.
Iran already has the capability of blocking the Strait of Hormuz, 21 miles wide at the narrowest point, through which 20% of the world’s oil passes. Control of Yemen would give the Iranian mullahs control of two of the world’s choke points; this does not mean that they will close both straits. The mullahs might be crazy but they are not stupid and for the moment, they are simply developing their strategy to control the whole of the Middle East; add to the brew Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which they are on the verge of realizing. This will completely destabilize the region and will spur a nuclear arms race among the threatened countries.
The Middle East already has a Byzantine web of alliances both open and implied. In an area where the inconceivable is already conceivable, there is, if not a de facto alliance, at least an understanding between Saudi Arabia and Israel with the addition of Egypt and Jordan in the face of the Iranian threat. There is also Turkey, a formidable power which, so far, is sitting on the sidelines; however, as Iranian power grows (read Shiite) the chances of a clash with the mostly Sunni Turkey keep growing.
On March 25th the Pentagon ordered US and coalition forces to launch air strikes and also provide intelligence to help Iraqi forces resume the stalled Tikrit offensive. The Iraqi security forces are Shiite militia backed by Iranian artillery, weapons and advisers, so effectively, we are backing the Iranians in Iraq against ISIS, bombing Assad forces in Syria, indirectly helping ISIS, backing the Saudi coalition strikes against the Iranian sponsored Houthis, thus opposing Iran while simultaneously holding negotiations with Tehran on dissuading the mullahs from developing a nuclear bomb and at the same time scolding the Israelis for voicing their concerns over a treaty that might spell doom for the Jewish state. Confused? You bet.
The State Department reiterated today their assertion of their foreign policy success in Yemen. Please, no more foreign policy “successes” We simply can’t afford’em!