Why Did Yemen’s Iran-Backed Houthis Fire Missiles Into Saudi Arabia?

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Common sense would suggest Iran toning down its language and measures as domestic and international pressures increase.

One cannot claim Tehran’s rulers lack common sense, as many accused Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. The Iranian regime has been in power for four decades and their mentality hinges on pragmatism with the sole objective of maintaining their existence to the utmost extent.

Sunday night, local time, Saudi civilians became the target of seven ballistic missiles fired by the Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen.

“The Iran-aligned Houthi rebels fired three missiles at Riyadh and four others at the southern cities of Khamis Mushait, Jizan and Najran,” according to reports.

Saudi Patriot missile air defense batteries were able to destroy at least one projectile heading for an urban area, reports indicate. These batteries are programmable to allow missiles headed for remote areas lacking civilian population to hit the ground, preventing the unnecessary deployment of costly Patriot missiles.

This turn of events is resulting in a long slate of negative international reactions.

The United Nations, a long slate of Middle East countries, the United States and European Union have condemned the missile attacks, recommitting their support for the Kingdom.

London, despite its history of seeking to maintain ties with Tehran and expanding economic relations, grilled the latest developments in strong terms.

“We question why Iran is spending significant revenue in a country with which it has no real historical ties or interests,” reads a joint statement from Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

The text also calls for Iran to stop transferring weapons into Yemen. This is a litmus test for Tehran to prove it favors ending the violence and establishing peace in the Arab World’s poorest country. A test the Iranian regime has and will continue to fail, considering its nature of trekking from one crisis to another.

In line with this argument, Iran’s regular army chief commander again voiced threats of total annihilation against Israel.

“We will finish off Israel’s life within less than 25 years,” said Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi referring to a comment by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

This goes alongside the necessity for senior Iranian regime officials to save face in times of increasing domestic unrest parallel to elevating international isolation.

“We must choose between hard & harder. If we don’t accept the hard methods, we will have to succumb to more difficult circumstances,” said Iran’s Deputy Trade Minister Ali Sarzaeem.

Such comments from Iran come as the Trump administration undergoes major reshuffling, with analysts believing increasing pressure on Iran is a major focus.

After more than a year’s work with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump’s move to appoint CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his top diplomat is raising eyebrows across the globe, including most importantly in Tehran. Tillerson is well-known for convincing Trump, along with former National Security H.R. McMaster, to stick to the controversial Iran nuclear deal for a year.

With a new Secretary of State, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton set to take over as National Security Advisor, many believe the coffin is completing for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran nuclear agreement is formally known.

Tehran understands the unfolding situation is completely against its short- and long-term interests. Prior to the recent visit of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Tehran, the West was seeking major curbing of Iran’s ballistic missile program and Middle East meddling. Tehran turning down that offer and taking into consideration the latest string of developments, the entire JCPOA now hangs in the balance.

Despite what you might read in mainstream media or hear from Iranian officials thumping their chests, Tehran desperately needs the JCPOA to remain intact.

Domestic circumstances are changing significantly following the December protests surge across Iran. Tehran’s rulers understand better than anyone their apparatus lacks the capacity to withstand a return to pre-JCPOA sanctions. The status quo is taking its toll on the regime’s day-to-day affairs, let alone with sanctions suffocating the economy.

For this very reason Iran’s regime is testing waters, such as through increasing hostilities in Yemen. Tehran seeks to maintain a poker face and claim more such steps will come if the U.S. decides to exit the JCPOA. This goes alongside previous claims of relaunching 20% uranium enrichment in a matter of 48 hours.

Although what needs understanding, as Europe is beginning to, is that Trump is not Obama. And Iran’s regime is far weaker due to the recent uprising, alongside growing intensifying internal disputes.

As a result, the circumstances are ripe to increase pressure on Tehran with actions such as sanctioning the mullahs’ Central Bank and crippling the Revolutionary Guards.

The likes of these actions, and not foreign military intervention, will place Washington and the West shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people in their struggle to set aside the mullahs and finally establish freedom and democracy.

The result of decades of appeasement is leaving no option but a firm policy vis-à-vis Tehran, and Washington is patching all loopholes.

Tehran comprehends these circumstances. If the mullahs’ back down from measures such as the recent Houthis’ missile attack, demands across the board will only increase.

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Will Iran’s Troubles In Yemen Propagate Elsewhere?

Recent developments in Yemen and the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has highlighted what Iran has sought long to cloak. Tehran’s campaign in Saudi Arabia’s backyard has stumbled upon major political and military setbacks, providing the opportunity for Washington to correct a policy in need of strong amending.

How the future unfolds in Yemen has the potential of sparking a series of major defeats for Iran across the region, spilling into the country’s shaky politics and fueling further domestic unrest.

Senior Iranian officials, however, have gone the distance to portray Saleh’s death as a step forward against their regional archrivals, mainly Saudi Arabia.

Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari described it as the end of a “sedition” or “treason.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, even described Saleh as the agent of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who deserved such a fate.

The two, considered members of Khamenei’s inner circle, describe the latest events in Yemen as a conspiracy. The bigger picture, however, reveals a major rout for Khamenei’s ambitions in the Arabian Peninsula.

Saleh’s forces have separated from the Iran-backed Houthis, depriving Tehran of a large bulk of vital manpower on the ground. Saleh enjoyed the support of a large segment of the armed forces, many tribes and the Popular Congress Party with all its branches in cities across Yemen.

The Houthis, being a militia entity, have now lost this key source of support and legitimacy for their cause. To add insult to injury for Iran, a large portion of Saleh loyalists have pledged allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition, providing crucial ground forces and intelligence to their effort against the Houthis.

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Huthi supporters brandish their weapons during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 8, 2017. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Muslim and Arab countries across the world to protest against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians. / MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

This renders meaningless Iran’s claims of now enjoying full control over Sanaa. Even after Saleh’s death Iran sought to seal all resulting rifts in Yemen’s landscape, understanding the meaning of losing Saleh’s boots. This can also be considered a signal of the Houthis’ fragile and vulnerable status quo.

It is safe to say these turn of events have terminated any hope of negotiations for the Houthis, as they have revealed their true nature. It has become crystal clear for all parties in Yemen, and across the Middle East, of the fate awaiting those who mingle with Tehran. To begin with, Yemen’s long slate of tribes will now – if not already – have deep suspicions over Iran’s intentions on their soil.

Comprehending the lack of any tangible future for his regime’s Yemen initiative, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has twice called for engagement and negotiations with regional states.

This marks a stark change in strategy for Iran, as Yemen for Khamenei resembled a bargaining chip, based on the alliance they previously enjoyed with Saleh’s loyalists.

Yemen has now become the most vulnerable piece of Iran’s Middle East puzzle. Tehran’s position in the region is also downgrading and weakened deeply, making Rouhani’s call for talks more understandable.

The setbacks in Yemen has had its impact on Iran’s other political endeavors. Following the recent missile launch from Yemen targeting Riyadh, and evidence showing the missile being of Iranian origin, France and other European countries have voiced positions far different from their stereotype calls for engagement with Tehran.

Parallel to French President Emmanuel Macron seeking talks to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program, his top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian in a recent interview signaled Paris will not accept Tehran’s military expansion to the Mediterranean.

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BEIJING, CHINA – NOVEMBER 24: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on November 24, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Jason Lee – Pool / Getty Images)