Iran’s Allies Escalate in Yemen, Threatening International Shipping Routes

October 19, 2016 | Michael Segall
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Last week, in response to attacks on an American naval vessel, the U.S destroyed three coastal radar installations used by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia. An earlier missile strike by the same militia was directed at ships of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a member of the Saudi-led and U.S.-supported anti-Houthi coalition. Despite the U.S. response, the Houthis have continued to fire at American ships. Michael Segall explains the significance of this conflict:

The firing of guided shore-to-sea missiles at U.S. and UAE ships constitutes an escalation in the Yemeni conflict and could pose a threat to a key international sea lane in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The ability to fire guided missiles, along with their long-range (120 km), endangers not only the [Saudi-led] coalition’s freedom of action and ability to enforce the Arab embargo [on the Houthis], but also civilian vessels, including tankers that operate in the area.

Iran’s aid to the Houthi rebels has apparently increased. . . . Iran is [evidently now] prepared to provide tie-breaking weapons that could help the Houthis breach the naval blockade that Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have imposed on Yemen. . . . It [also] appears . . . that, since the Houthis have held their own in the battles, the embargo is ineffective and Iran has [already] found other lanes for transferring weapons. . . .

For Iran, Yemen is a perfect venue for [testing its weaponry and tactics]. Iran is preparing for future engagement with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf where [it] frequently provokes and sometimes humiliates American naval presence in the area. The Americans’ reaction to launching the missiles against its ships may change the dynamics. Playing the incident down will again play into Iranian propaganda and bolster Iran’s already overconfident and defiant stance.

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