Egypt eyes halting Iran expansion through Yemen war: analysts
‘Iran needs to be countered all across the region. Only Arab unity will allow that countering to work,’ one analyst said
Egyptian authorities may view the country’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in Yemen as a means of putting a check of Iranian expansion in the region, particularly by securing the strategic Suez Canal, as well as reinstating its role as a regional power, analysts say.
When the turmoil in Yemen grew into a regional conflict, Egypt, like most Arab nations, moved quickly to support a military operation launched by Saudi Arabia against the regionally backed Houthi movement in Yemen.
As part of the Saudi-led campaign, Egypt dispatched a number of warships toward Aden. It also said it is prepared to send troops should a ground operation take place.
The intervention immediately raised questions on whether Egypt’s participation in the war is vital for Egypt, which still faces serious security threats from the inside.
Prominent Egyptian politician Amr Moussa was quoted by state-run newspaper Al Ahram this week as saying the importance of Egypt’s involvement in Yemen lay in its interest to protect the Suez Canal.
He described the step as “vital” to secure the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, located at the mouth of the Red Sea, and path to the Suez Canal, as quoted by the newspaper.
“If the Houthis, who are believed to be backed by Iran, win, it means that Iran will get control over the Red Sea. Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not allow this to happen,” Cairo-based Sociology Professor Saeed Sadek told al Arabiya News.
The fear among many Arab states of an Iranian expansion in Yemen using Houthis could be another reason why Egypt participated in the coalition, he added.
The main goal behind the action in Yemen seems to be “Arab unity against Iran,” Paul Sullivan, professor of economics at the Washington-based National Defense University, told Al Arabiya News.
“Iran needs to be countered all across the region. Only Arab unity will allow that countering to work.”
“The Saudis, Emiratis, and the Egyptians are now tied at the hip economically, militarily and otherwise,” he added.
On this note, Sadek also mentioned that the financial support granted by the Gulf to the Egyptian government over years of turmoil means that Egypt needs to support its allies militarily when needed.
The intervention in Yemen could be also seen by Egypt as an opportunity to regain its regional power after four years of political turmoil, Sadek added.
“Egypt wants to prove that it overcame Yemen’s ‘60s scenario and that it can resume its role as a regional player,” he said, in a reference to the Egyptian intervention in Yemen in the mid-1960s by the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Nasser back then deployed thousands of Egyptian troops during the Yemeni civil war. Historians view that period as “Egypt's version of Vietnam,” Sadek explained.
“Egypt was bogged down in Yemen and nearly went bankrupt due to that in the 1960s with Nasser's adventures to support those who fought the loyalists to the Zayidi royalty,” Sullivan said.
“The results of the civil war with many outside interventions was far from satisfactory for anyone involved,” he added.
Egypt’s decision to step-into the current war against Houthis continues to raise valid reasons for concern.
Some argue that the operation in Yemen will drain Egypt’s military and economic capabilities and that the decision could serve as a distraction from Egypt’s internal problems.
Sadek said that the Egyptian media portrays the war in Yemen to the public as vital to halt a “Persian expansion” in the war-torn country.
Sullivan notes that the Egyptian public’s stance on the war could be significantly influenced if the war in Yemen takes longer and burdens the state with losses.
“It is to be seen how long support from the street will last if this drags on with many losses and heavy costs,” he said.
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