The Real Stakes in Yemen

Jim Hanson

4 year ago

September 21, 2018

There is much discussion about the current war in Yemen which pits Iran-backed Houthis against US allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There is a vital US interest at stake here: ensuring the free flow of shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Iran already sits astride the Straits of Hormuz and has claimed recently they control traffic through it. Iranian proxy forces firing Iranian missiles are seeking to control this second vital piece of terrain on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Such control could give Iran the ability to use anti-ship missiles to threaten or shut down both major routes for oil to leave the region.

That is an intolerable prospect for the United States and our allies and the reason we are supporting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their effort to defeat the Houthis in Yemen. Additionally the Saudis share a border with Yemen and the Houthis have been shooting missiles they have been given by Iran into civilian areas including the international airport in Riyadh. The need to ensure Iran doesn’t complete this expansion by proxy is an important one and justifies US support for the efforts by our allies to stop them.

A story in the Wall Street Journal attempts to make this seem contrary to US interests or simply mercenary as a way to make weapons sales in the region. “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed continued U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen over the objections of staff members after being warned that a cutoff could jeopardize $2 billion in weapons sales to America’s Gulf allies”. That characterization presumes the weapons sales were the rationale for the certification. Given that the Journal piece fails to raise the stakes of the conflict for American and global interests, we have to assume they do not understand the conflict well enough to comment on it.

The story states that Secretary Pompeo made the decision to certify compliance against the unified advice of his staff and experts. That is also inaccurate. We at SSG have met with senior State Department and other national security officials who fully support this effort to halt Iran’s attempted expansion into the Arabian Peninsula. They have told us that no result short of defeat of the Houthi rebels is acceptable to US interests.

The US is concerned about innocent lives being at risk in this conflict, and involved in continual efforts to ensure the war in Yemen is prosecuted according the laws of land warfare and that civilian casualties are minimized. But the Houthis bear responsibility for this as well since they regularly commit war crimes by conducting military operations from within civilian zones. For example, if they fire missiles from areas populated by civilians they are responsible if an air strike to destroy the launcher happens to cause collateral damage.

There has also been concern about the humanitarian effects of the war on the civilian population. There is no question that much suffering is happening and we must be part of making sure that is dealt with. It is worth noting the Saudis have been the main supplier of food and other aid to the Yemenis for the past thirty years. This was interrupted when Iran helped start a civil war there by supplying the Houthis with major military hardware. The Houthis have disrupted aid efforts and regularly conduct atrocities against civilians. Their defeat would be a powerful step toward stopping the humanitarian crisis and in the meantime the US and the Saudis are working to get food and other aid to the people.

Iran’s malign activities are the main source of trouble in the entire Middle East. Their support of proxies to expand their influence and control as well as to conduct terror operations is unacceptable and the Iran Strategy of the Trump Administration uses all aspects of US power to combat this and get them to stop it. This includes the many sanctions already in place against the regime as well as the next batch coming November 4th which are tailored to hurt Iran’s corrupt leaders directly.

The United States and our friends in the Middle East must continue to work together against the common enemy: the Iranian regime. We must make Iranian expansionism too costly, and force them to refocus their time and treasure on better serving the needs of their own people.


About the Author

Jim Hanson

Jim served in US Army Special Forces and conducted Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Insurgency as well as Diplomatic, Intelligence and Humanitarian operations in more than a dozen countries. He is the author of Cut Down the Black Flag – A Plan to Defeat the Islamic State, and has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, BBC, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, C-Span, and numerous national radio shows.