Yemen Is about to Fall into Iran’s Clutches

Following decreased American support and China-brokered détente with Iran, Saudi Arabia appears to ready to give up on its war against the Tehran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. To this end, the Saudi ambassador to the country met with a Houthi leader last month. Oved Lobel ponders what will become of Yemen if Riyadh and its Arab allies decide to abandon it to Iranian proxies:

Much like the U.S. in its engagement with the Taliban, the Saudis have sidelined the Yemeni government and other Yemeni actors and are negotiating their withdrawal directly with the Houthis and [Tehran]. Among the range of possible outcomes, all bad, the least bad would be if the conflict were to be frozen indefinitely, with Saudi Arabia remaining militarily engaged to protect Marib and other areas loyal to the Yemeni government, and the Houthis inevitably launching missile and drone strikes but no new offensives to conquer territory.

But the most likely outcome, as in Afghanistan, is total Saudi disengagement from Yemen. . . . If the Saudis do unilaterally withdraw support for allies in Yemen, there are three potential scenarios for Yemen: Hizballah-ization, in which [Iran] pragmatically moves its local arm into politics—while retaining separate security forces and ultimate control—within the façade of a state; partition, in which the Houthis quickly conquer all areas held by the Yemeni government but at least temporarily do not attempt to conquer areas controlled by the United Arab Emirates’ proxies in the South; and Talibanization, in which the Houthis move to conquer the entire country immediately.

[W]hat is not in doubt . . . is that, for both Houthi leaders and their Iranian commanders, jihad is non-negotiable—particularly after they have begun to taste victory.

Read more at Fresh Air

More about: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy