Saudi Attack on Yemen Aims to Prevent Thaw Between Iran and the West

03/30/2015 06:12 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Another bloody, destructive, and quite possibly long war has begun in the Middle East due to intervention by a foreign power in the internal affairs of another nation. A coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, began bombing Yemen on March 26. The coalition's partners include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and Jordan. It is also supported by Turkey, Pakistan, and Egypt. The bombing, dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, has been receiving intelligence and logistical support from the United States Central Command that is responsible for all the Middle East and southwest Asia.

The goal of the Saudi-led coalition is to defeat the Houthis, who belong to the Shiite branch of Islam and whose forces had overthrown the central government in Sanaa. The Houthis, who represent about 40 percent of Yemen's population, take their name from Hussein Badr Al-Deen Houthi, a Shiite religious leader who had visited Iran in the 1990s, and led the movement until he was killed in 2004.

Saudi Arabia's excuse for the attacks was articulated by Adel al-Jubeir, its ambassador to the United States, who said, "Having Yemen fail cannot be option for us or for our coalition partners." Apparently, the Saudis believed that Yemen was failing because Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's former president who was supported by Saudi Arabia but was deposed as a result of months of demonstrations in 2012, had sided with the Houthi Shiites. The alliance allowed the Houthis to make rapid progress in their attacks on the central government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and take control of a significant part of Yemen. Hadi fled Yemen and took refuge in Saudi Arabia, and al-Arabiya, the mouthpiece of the Saudi regime, claims that one goal of the military operation is to restore "the legitimate leader" of Yemen to power, never mind that when Hadi was elected, he was the only candidate running in the elections.

"The real reason behind the attacks is one and only one word: Iran."

But, the real reason behind the attacks is one and only one word: Iran. Ever since the Shiites came to power in Iraq in 2004 and Jordan's King Abdullah spoke about a "Shiite Crescent" in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, a religious dictatorship of the worst kind, together with its Sunni allies in the region, which are also dictatorial regimes, have been obsessed with the Shiites and Iran. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi Arabia ambassador to the United States and former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, said several years ago, "The time is not far off in the Middle East, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia.' More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them." The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had called for bombing of Iran by the United States.

So, since 2004, the Sunni Arab states have been accusing Iran of aiding the Shiites in the region, including in Yemen. They point, for example, to some Iranian hardliners who have boasted about the Yemeni Shiites' victories. But, the fact is, even though Iran has been involved in Yemen for decades, the wars there have been turf wars, and Iran has never been the kingmaker. Joost Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group put it this way, "The Iranians are just brilliant. They play no role whatsoever [in Yemen], but they get all the credit, and so they are capitalizing on it."

Saudi Arabia considers the Houthis as Iran's puppets. It is supposedly terrified by the prospect of a Shiite-controlled government in Yemen, viewing it as a copy of the Lebanese Hezbollah, this time on its southern borders. Iran's role in Yemen has, however, been exaggerated. Iran does not view Yemen as having strategic importance to either its national interests or its ambitions for influence in the Middle East. At the same time, getting involved in such a poor and war-torn country at a time when its forces are present in Syria and Iraq, and its economy is still suffering from the weight of Western sanctions, would represent a heavy and unnecessary burden. Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah because it views it as its strategic depth against Israel. What does Yemen offer Iran strategically? Not much. Even if the Saudis had not intervened in Yemen, and the Houthis could have formed a government, Iran simply does not have have the resources to prop it up.

Another important reason for the Saudi aggression against Yemen has to do with the negotiations between Iran and P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The negotiations, which are opposed by Saudi Arabia, have made great progress, and may soon result in a comprehensive agreement with Iran. The Saudis believe that the agreement will marginalize their country, hurting its strategic significance to the United States. They are well aware that, given Iran's young, educated and dynamic population of nearly 80 million, its strategic position as a bridge between Asia and Europe and in control of the entire northern shores of the Persian Gulf, its rich natural resources in addition to vast reserves of oil and natural gas, and deep and old culture and influence throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Saudi Arabia cannot simply compete with Iran, if Iran's relations with the West are improved, and the crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iran are lifted. So, they are doing what they can to poison the negotiations' atmosphere, presenting Iran as a menace to the Middle East that must not be trusted. Saud al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said a few days ago, "It is impossible to give Iran deals it does not deserve."

"The question is, when does the United States finally recognize that it is Iran that is its strategic ally, not the corrupt Sunni Arab regimes of the Middle East?"

Saudi Arabia's aggression against Yemen fits completely with its other actions in the region, intervening in the affairs of other nations of the Middle East. It intervened militarily in Bahrain to suppress the democratic movement there led by the Shiites that represent 70 percent of Bahrain's population. It supported the military coup in Egypt in July 2013 that overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Mohamed Morsi. It intervened in Syria's civil war, transforming it from what had begun as a struggle between the moderate groups and the government of President Bashar al-Assad to a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis. As Vice President Joe Biden put it last October at Harvard University, "The Saudis, the Emiratis. . .were so determined to take down [Bashar al-] Assad in essentially a proxy Sunni-Shiite war. What do they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollar and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being, who were being supplied were [Jabhat] al-Nusra], al-Qaeda, and extremist elements of jihadists coming from the parts of the world." So, just to hit Iran and the Shiites, the Saudis supported the worst terrorist groups in the Middle East, hence contributing mightily to the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in Iraq.

By supporting Saudi Arabia and its contention that it wants to restore the "legitimate president" of Yemen to power, the United States demonstrated once again its double standards. Why is it that the U.S. works closely with the dictatorial regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who toppled the Morsi government?

Once again we see the difference between Iran and the Sunni Arab regimes of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, that the United States has been "pampering" by its blind support for them. Despite all of its internal problems regarding the treatment of its citizens and violations of their human rights, Iran is a far more open society than Saudi Arabia has ever been, or can be for the foreseeable future. The question is, when does the United States finally recognize that it is Iran that is its strategic ally, not the corrupt Sunni Arab regimes of the Middle East?

Saudi Airstrikes Yemen