Is Yemen the staging ground for a US/Iran proxy war?
It is public knowledge that the Houthi insurgency in Northern Yemen is accused of being backed by the Iranian government lead by President Ahmadinejad. The Houthis, whose fighters now number in the 10’s of thousands, are Shiite as is the majority of Iran.
The Yemen central government, which is backed by the US both financially and militarily, has stated that in October of last year they intercepted an Iranian vessel full of military arms that were destined for the Houthi rebels in northwestern Yemen.
The Annahar, a leading newspaper in Beirut reported on December 13th that Houthi rebels met with Hezbollah and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to plan strikes on Saudi Arabian forces along the Northern border of Yemen.
It is important to note that Iran denies both of these reports, however it is plausible that Iran would like to weaken Saudi Arabia, a country that currently acts as a counter balance to Iran’s rising profile in the region.
If Iran is indeed supporting the Houthi rebels to any extent, and Washington has evidence of this support, then it is plausible that the recent US strikes and US supported Saudi/Yemeni central government strikes in Yemen are less about opening up a new front in the war on terror and more about opening up a new front to weaken Iranian influence in the region.
This possibility that the US is engaging Iran in a proxy war is evidence that the Pentagon does not believe that strikes on Iran would receive widespread support with the case that has already been presented. That case was first introduced to the Western public by stating that strikes may be necessary to stop a lunatic leader, namely Ahmadinejad who openly states that he wants to wipe Israel off of the map, from getting his hands on a nuclear weapon. In recent months Washington has begun to hint at regime change by pointing out that Tehran has responded to protests in their country with harsh repression. These two aspects of the case will likely eventually lead to tighter and tighter sanctions on Iran.
Conventional warfare against Iran is risky, especially while they have active proxies in both Northern Yemen (Houthi). Lebanon (Hezbollah) and the support of Hamas in Gaza.
So the current action by the US could have one of two plausibe goals. The first is that they know they need to wipe out Iranian proxies, to lessen the chance of US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia being the victims of asymmetrical warfare. This also means that Hezbollah could be the next target, more likely at the hands of the Israeli military.
Or Washington may be hoping that the current strikes may lead to a wider consensus to begin traditional strikes inside of Iran for the entire world to see. Iran could also be forced to go public in their support for the Houthi which could lead to a wider regional war.
Shaun Booth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org