Fatal Triangle: Saudi, Iran, US Tensions spike over continued Yemen Airstrikes

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

The attention span of US television news is so short that it is difficult for it to cover ongoing wars in which there isn’t dramatic news every day. Not to mention that getting a camera crew into some conflict zones is highly dangerous or just impossible (television news needs footage). Yemen’s war doesn’t appear to be on the front burner of the news rooms this morning, but Thursday saw dramatic developments.

Heavy fighting in the southern Yemeni city of Aden between Houthi rebels from the north and local forces loyal to the ousted government in exile of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left the city even more damaged, including a major hospital. In addition, Saudi fighter jets bombed two hotels occupied by the Houthis and some of their military sites, setting fire to houses in the Khurmaksar District and leaving 19 persons dead. The Saudis had announced that they would cease bombing Yemen on Tuesday, but in fact have continued to strike it. Some 300,000 Yemenis have now been forced from their homes. There is no evidence that the Saudi strikes have rolled back the Houthi rebels. Although the press keeps calling the Houthis ‘Iran-backed,’ this allegation is mostly Saudi propaganda. The Houthis are a nativist Shiite Zaydi movement against Saudi Wahhabi proselytizing, which is the real reason the Saudis hate them.

The US began expressing unease with the Saudi bombing last week, given high civilian casualties, but has been giving logistical support to the effort. The Obama administration is reportedly pressuring Saudi Arabia behind the scenes to stop.

A senior Iranian commander, furious at the continued bombing, said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia deserved to be “punished” for its strikes on Yemen.

Iran had sent a convoy to the Houthis, but it was turned back by US naval intervention. In revenge, the Iranians bothered a Danish ship in the Persian Gulf flying a Marshall Islands flag. That is a US protectorate but not the US, and the Iranians cleverly exploited the ambiguity. The US navy will now escort US ships in the Gulf.

This heightened naval tension all comes from the Saudi attack on Yemen and the way it dragged the US into supporting it, setting a collision course with Iran.

Related video:

Reuters: Warfare in Aden

9 Responses

  1. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in March 2011 to put down a popular protest movement against the Khalifa regime. In Syria, Saudi Arabia has allowed Saudi citizens to fund the most despicable groups, bringing Syria to the precipice of a complete humanitarian disaster and destruction. It is likely the support goes beyond just citizens; the government also likely supports these groups, just isn’t willing to fess up to it quite yet. Elsewhere, their funding for madrassas that espouse Wahabhi idealogy has made normally more tolerant regions deeply intolerant.

    At home, the House of Saud is the most regressive and repressive regime on the planet.

  2. good post. Regarding the Saudis breaking their own ceasefire, you might consider a post at the Sic Semper Tyrannis website. I can’t assess its credibility, but the author claimed the Saudi suffered desertions in the face of prospective combat with the Houthis.
    link to turcopolier.typepad.com

  3. Great to see you continue to follow this situation, Mr. Cole, but your commentary raises the question (at least to me, a layman of practical foreign policy), if the Houthis are not Iranian-backed, why is Iran getting involved? What role are they playing?

    • There is a difference between Iran-encouraged and Iran-puppet, at least as far as international law is concerned. Replace “Iran” with “US” and think of all the movements that have gotten US encouragement around the world, including Pussy Riot and gay rights – are all of those acts of war?

  4. “Iran had sent a convoy to the Houthis, but it was turned back by US naval intervention”
    No mention that this was a cargo of much needed food and medical supplies, NOT arms, but of course the US had to interfere.

  5. Western news in general has been lazy in describing the conflict. The Saudis not keeping their word is not surprising, neither is their ideological hate being root and exported everywhere. But to be fair, the Houthi rebels overstepped with trying to control the capital and expand.

    The US didn’t get dragged in, its a choice made in supporting such allies. After everything in Egypt, Libya and Syria, the Gulf states are likely to ignore US pressure and flex their muscles. There’s no winning in this for Iran who can do nothing for Yemen. There’s literally a coalition of Sunni states with US backing involved in hammering the Zaidis with more enthusiasm than against extremists in ISIL.

  6. None of this would be happening if the place had not been filled to overflowing with lethal armaments only any good for those who make them and those who sell them and you’d have to go a lot further than Dr Cole’s 30,000 feet to see a solution to the conundrum implicit in that reality.

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