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Iranians and Saudis Fight a Proxy War in Yemen

The two heavyweights of the Islamic world square off in Saudi Arabia's backyard.

by
Ryan Mauro

Bio

November 19, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Iran is now waging a proxy war against Saudi Arabia and Yemen by supporting a radical sect of Zaydi Shiites described as the Houthis, after the founder of their movement. The Iranians aren’t merely trying to destabilize Arab countries that are aligned too closely to the U.S.; they are trying to create a Shiite empire extending from Iran through southern Iraq to Syria — where the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Muslims, are in power — to Lebanon. Now Iran is trying to create a Shiite enclave in northern Yemen. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it is easy to predict where they will go next: Bahrain, whose population is majority Shiite, and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which conveniently for Iran is 75% Shiite and is the location of 90% of the country’s oil.

The fighting in northern Yemen between the rebels and the Yemeni government has sharply escalated in recent weeks, with violence spilling over the Saudi border. The Saudis have responded by reclaiming their territory, bombing the rebels within a buffer zone six miles south of the border, and beginning a naval blockade in the area to prevent arms from flowing in from outside the peninsula. There is also a report that the Saudis are sending thousands of troops to provide logistical support for the Yemeni military and are financing them with $5 million per day.

Iran has reacted to the Saudi intervention by calling for a “collective approach” (read: negotiate with Iran for a settlement in their favor) in solving the crisis and offering its help in restoring stability, a not-so-subtle way of hinting that they hold the keys for a solution. The unfortunate truth is that the Iranians aren’t bluffing. The Yemenis have captured an Iranian ship delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels and arrested the crewmen: four Iranians and one Indian. The Revolutionary Guards are reportedly training some of the rebels at camps in Eritrea and shipping arms to them via the port of Asab.

A former Houthi official has confirmed that the rebels are receiving Iranian funding and training from the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force and Hezbollah. He said that members of Hezbollah may have been killed in Yemen. The rebels have fired Katyusha rockets, the same kind of weapon often used by Hezbollah, and even flew the terrorist group’s flag in 2004. The authorities have also closed a hospital in Sana after it was found to be used by the Iranians to fundraise for the rebels and to gather intelligence, and at least six arms depots containing Iranian-manufactured machine guns, rockets, and other weapons have been found.

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