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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Iran Seeks Breathing Room Through Yemen Missile Attacks

What is the objective behind the recent surge of ballistic missile attacks staged by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militias against Saudi Arabia?

With the Saudi-led coalition retaking 85% of the country from the Houthis, Tehran understands fully its Yemen campaign is coming to a dismal end. All the while, the Iranian regime faces increasing mayday scenarios domestically and abroad.

Iran is a regime established on crises: Unable to resolve one or a number of dilemmas, or anticipating others in the making, Tehran resorts to launching new turmoil.

The mentality of this regime, and its four decades of unjustified rule, has resulted in the status quo of constantly choosing between bad and worse.

Following similar ballistic missile launches on Nov. 4th and 30th, the Houthis on Tuesday resorted to yet another such attack resulting in the Saudi air defense downing the projectile northeast of Riyadh, located 850 kilometers from Houthi controlled areas of Yemen.

Condemning the attack “enabled by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” President Donald Trump in his Wednesday phone call with Saudi King Salman “discussed the importance of engaging the United Nations to hold Iran accountable for its repeated violations of international law,” according to a White House readout.

This measure can be weighed as in response to an unprecedented press conference held by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, displaying remnants of various military equipment, including parts of a ballistic missile, an unmanned aerial vehicle and an anti-tank guided missile, all made in Iran and provided to the Houthis of Yemen.

Ambassador Haley also described Tuesday’s missile attack by the Houthis as bearing the hallmarks of a weapon provided by Iran.

At the same UN Security Council meeting, UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman said:

“… the two missiles launched at the Saudi cities of Yanbu and Riyadh had similar features which suggested a common origin, and are consistent with missiles of the Scud family and had features known to be consistent with [Iran’s] Qiam-1 missile.”

“One of the missiles bore castings similar to that of an Iranian entity on the list maintained pursuant to resolution 2231, he added.

“In terms of restrictions on arms-related transfers, the Secretariat is confident that close to 900 of the assault rifles seized by the United States in March 2016 are identical to those seized by France also in the same month, which the Secretariat had assessed were of Iranian origin and shipped from Iran, Mr. Feltman said.

“The Secretariat is also confident that half of the 200 rocket propelled grenade launchers had characteristics similar to Iranian-produced RPG launchers.

“Further, the Secretariat had received information on an unmanned surface vessel (USV) laden with explosives allegedly used against the Saudi-led coalition and had the opportunity to examine parts of its guidance and detonation systems, which included a computer terminal with a dual English/Farsi keyboard and characteristics similar to those of Iranian-produced terminals.

“The Secretariat was also requested to examine two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), reportedly recovered in Yemen after Implementation Day. One of the UAVs – which Saudi authorities ascertain was similar to that of the Iranian-made Ababil-II – is similar to other drones reportedly seized in Yemen brought to our attention by the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Feltman said.”

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Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman at the Security Council briefing on Non-proliferation. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

To add insult to injury for Tehran, Ambassador Haley argued the new U.N. Secretary General report provides basis for new pressure on Tehran’s ongoing behavior, such as a new resolution or strengthening already existing measures.

Almost simultaneously, the UN General Assembly adopted a Canada-sponsored resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations for the 64th time, expressing:

“…serious concern at the alarmingly high frequency of the imposition and carrying-out of the death penalty… including the imposition of the death penalty against minors and persons who at the time of their offence were under the age of 18, and executions undertaken for crimes that do not qualify as the most serious crimes, on the basis of forced confessions.”

The UN resolution calls on Iran “to abolish, in law and in practice, public executions.”

The onslaught of crises troubling Iran includes a very dangerous row between former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – once considered a very close confidant of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – and the judiciary, another entity considered tightly under Khamenei’s influence.

During May’s presidential elections Ahmadinejad refused to bow to Khamenei’s recommendation to refrain from participating, sparking a significant dispute among the hardliners and rocking the boat in Iran’s highly turmoil seas of domestic politics.

The judiciary recently threatened to accuse Ahmadinejad of “sedition” and supporting Babak Zanjani, an oil-tycoon known to have stolen billions of dollars’ worth of revenue and reportedly enjoying extensive ties with senior regime officials.

Considering the increasing foreign calamities Khamenei’s apparatus faces on a daily scale, such internal rifts couldn’t have arrived at a worse timing.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s inaugural national security strategy describes Iran as a “rogue state” and a principal challenger to U.S. interests in the Middle East. While the text blasts former president Barack Obama for sealing a “disastrous, weak, and incomprehensibly bad deal with Iran,” a recent bombshell published by Politico unveiled how the Obama administration literally protected a $1 billion Hezbollah-led drug trafficking network to maintain Iran in line with an already controversial nuclear pact.

Hezbollah is a terrorist designated group launched by Iran in Lebanon in the early 1980s.

To confront all these crunches, Iran has no solutions other than resorting to an old tactic of creating new mayhem to robe previous others. This behavior would seem illogical for a stereotype government, but Iran is anything but a normal or stereotype government.

For example, in the year 2000, after enduring Mohammad Khatami – now under house arrest – as president of his regime for four years, Khamenei had no choice but to pave the path for his second term.

Yet to coat such a setback, Khamenei ordered a major missile attack against the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), then stationed in a series of bases aligning the Iran-Iraq border. While the PMOI initially reported 77 missiles targeted their bases, years later former IRGC chief Rahim Safavi said the avalanche consisted of 1,000 long and medium-rangefired from Iran into Iraqi soil.

The bottom line is that Iran is facing major domestic and foreign dilemmas, to say the least, and its tactic is to screen one impasse through creating yet another. This is no regime to arrange deals and agreements with, and this is no time to decrease any pressure on Iran.

The international community must adopt a firm policy to force Tehran into relinquishing such a slate of belligerence, including its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism and proxy groups, and human rights violations at home.

Otherwise, rest assured this regime will mushroom newer and more serious calamities across the board.

ANALYSIS: Understanding Washington’s fast-evolving Iran policy

On the doorstep of US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy speech, the administration launched an unprecedented campaign of pinpointing the crosshairs on the epicenter of all extremism causing havoc across the Middle East: Iran.

This comes following a Wall Street Journal article explaining how in the post-ISIS world Washington will begin pinpointing its focus and resources on the larger and more dangerous threat posed by Tehran.

‘Hard look’

The Trump administration has made it clear that a wide array of destructive policies adopted by Tehran have become unacceptable, a clear indication of the end of Iran’s years of windblown successes, thanks mainly to eight years of the Obama’s unbridled appeasement policy and strategic mistakes of previous administrations.

Described as a “first” by Reuters, last Thursday US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley displayed a detailed exhibition of Iranian equipment used to arm Yemen’s Houthi militias – long known to be backed by Iran – and thus, to destabilize the region, especially its archrival, Saudi Arabia.

“We are not just focused on the nuclear program,” Haley said during a press conference at a US Department of Defense hangar where the Iranian equipment were placed before the media. “We’re also taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, its arms exports, and its support for terrorists, proxy fighters and dictators.”

Iran can also be described as the facilitator, and maybe even the godfather, of a slate of malign practices rendering suffering across the Arabian Peninsula, leading to the Levant and eastward to Central Asia.

“It’s hard to find a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it,” Haley continued, adding how this regime is “fanning the flames” of conflict.

It is worth reminding that for decades the US State Department has considered Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. We may actually be on the verge of meaningful and long overdue measures against Tehran on this very important and vital subject.

A different Iraq

US policy shifting also faces major decisions regarding the path forward in Iraq, as the three year war against ISIS group begins to wind down and Washington seeks to roll back Tehran’s influence over Baghdad. Disputes between the central government and the Kurdish region, parallel to the May general elections in which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks reelection, are important subjects for all parties involved.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” said Douglas Silliman, the US Ambassador to Iraq, while voicing how Washington is encouraged over recent efforts made by Baghdad to establish stronger ties with Riyadh and Amman.

This adds to Tehran’s troubles in Mesopotamia, as there are signs of growing rifts among its allies in Iraq’s Shiite majority. A stereotype mentality would suggest Iran is seeking the return of Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister considered by many as extremely loyal to Tehran.

Maliki, however, would need the unified support of Iraq’s Shiite community. Troubling Iran’s intentions is how various influential figures, such as Muqtada Sadr, have established close ties with Riyadh or signaled their own objectives.

Hadi al-Amiri, commander of Iraq’s largest Shiite paramilitary group, the so-called Badr Organization, called on his fighters on Thursday to begin taking orders from the national military and end their ties with the group’s political wing.

This move, parallel to unconfirmed reports of orders for the group’s fighters to withdraw from cities they currently control, paves the path for Amiri to take part in the upcoming May 12th parliamentary elections.

Back in July, Ammar al-Hakim, a politician known for his links to Iran, withdrew from the Tehran-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to launch a new party, the National Wisdom Movement. Al-Hakim has claimed to seek Sunni support for his new initiative.

July was the same month of Sadr’s Saudi and UAE visit, and he also raised eyebrows by calling for the controversial Popular Mobilization Forces to dismantle and integrate into the country’s armed forces.

Reports also indicate that Sadr intends to establish a political alliance with Abadi, the al-Wataniya slate of Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi and the Civil Democratic Alliance before May’s elections. Raising concerns for Iran is the fact that all these parties have called for political reforms in Iraq.

Necessary deterrence

With the US military effort against ISIS decreasing in necessity, the Trump administration is also weighing the future of its Syria campaign, with Iran on their mind. Having recently announced the presence of more than 2,000 American forces stationed currently in Syria, the new goal for these units is a highly debated subject.

As we remember the drastic experience of Obama’s premature pull-out of Iraq and the resulting consequences that paved the path for the rise of ISIS, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has indicated American troops have no intention of leaving the Levant in the foreseeable future.

It is vital to ensure ISIS is prevented the ability to morph into a dangerous new entity with the potential of raising new threats in this already hostile region. Furthermore, rest assured Washington is taking into considerable consideration the presence of Iranian proxies across the Levant, and how the stationing of US troops on the ground acts as a major deterrence element against Tehran’s treacherous initiatives.

Times have changed

Advocates of engagement vis-à-vis Iran are accusing the Trump administration of trailing the path of launching a war with Iran. Their intentions are far from preventing the US from entering a new war, but to protect Tehran from any strong measures, including international sanctions that target the regime and actually benefit the people by weakening the ruling system.

This piece is not a call for war with Iran, and there is a logic that needs understanding for those concerned about Iran responding violently to a US policy shift. Tehran’s support for militias in Iraq back in the 2000s enjoyed the support of two key elements:

1. A completely unified Iranian regime with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acting as the puppet of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

2. Billions in revenue rendered by skyrocketing oil prices soaring up to nearly $140 a barrel in June 2008.

This is not the case today, as Iranian politics is a scene of unprecedented internal quarrels described locally as “dogfights,” and the lowered price of oil and increasing sanctions leveled against Tehran are disrupting the regime’s efforts, seeking to maximize its regional bellicosity.

‘Global threat’

As emphasized by Ambassador Haley, it is high time for the international community to take decisive action, such as crippling sanctions targeting the regime and its belligerent institutions, to finally bring an end to what has become “a global threat.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, known for blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program, indicates how a “firm policy hinges on the following practical measures:

– Evicting the IRGC and its proxy militias from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and preventing the transfer of Iran’s weaponry and troops to these countries;

– Imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran and the IRGC, especially preventing their access to the global banking system;

– Referring Iran’s human rights violations dossier, particularly the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, to The International Criminal Court, and placing the regime’s senior officials responsible for these crimes before justice;

– Imposing previous UNSC resolutions covering Iran’s nuclear weapons program, banning uranium enrichment, and launching unconditional inspections into the regime’s military and non-military sites.”

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)