As the nuclear deal inches toward revival, the Houthi attacks on airports and oil depots in the Saudi cities of Jizan and Jeddah in the last few days are a call for consideration, not wonder. Aside from the question of Iran’s aggressive behavior in general, why does Tehran demand that Washington lift sanctions, yet simultaneously arrange, through its proxy in Yemen, attacks that threaten oil facilities and global oil prices and cause damage to states sitting across from it on the negotiating table?
Iran is redolent of a scorpion who asked a frog (the West, in this case) to carry it on its back so they can cross the river, vowing not to sting the frog as that would cause both of them to drown, yet still stinging it mid-way across the river. The reason? That’s just how Iran’s regime is. Whether or not Tehran signs the deal, attacking regional friends and allies of the United States is in the nature of Iran’s extremist religious system.
Iran took over Lebanon and turned it into a center of operations in the north of the Arabian region. It took over Yemen and turned it into an Iranian base from which to target Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, threaten international maritime traffic in Bab al-Mandib on the Red Sea, transfer militants and weapons to troubled East African nations, and carry on with destroying the Iraqi government system put in place by the US and threatening Gulf states and Israel. This is the nature of the extremist regime that’s been ruling Iran with an iron fist since the early 1980’s, one that regards the Vienna deal as a triumph that will add to its offensive capabilities and appetite.
What happened in Yemen was not a case of Yemeni infighting, but rather a chapter of the regional power conflict. Yemen’s woes began in the summer of 2014, when the Houthi Ansarullah militia attacked and captured the capital. At the time, all but a few in the region truly comprehended the danger that the Houthis would pose to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the whole region. With the Houthis in power, Iran gained a foothold in Sanaa and indirectly took over, through its proxy, a country about three times the size of Syria and 50 times the size of Lebanon, both of which had already fallen prey to the grip of Iran’s regime.
Contrary to popular belief, the war was only waged by Saudi Arabia and the Coalition after it became clear that Yemen was not in the clutches of an internal conflict between local Yemeni forces during the so-called “Spring Revolution”, but rather in the hands of a proxy of Tehran’s regime, who stormed the Presidential Palace, held the interim President at gunpoint, then occupied one city after the other until it surrounded Aden, the last stronghold. As such, the war happened because the Houthis are merely an extension of Iran and not an independent Yemeni component.
Ever since, the Iranian regime has held the reins in Yemen, as it has in Lebanon, using the force of weapons, threatening local civilian leaders and their families until all but a few of them left for Riyadh, Cairo, or elsewhere. As it did in Lebanon in 2005, when it assassinated then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri through its proxy, Hezbollah, Iran also decided to get rid of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who, like Hariri in Lebanon, enjoyed wide political and tribal support on the ground. Saleh was killed in December 2017 at the hands of Iran’s proxy, Ansarullah.
The war in Yemen falls within the context of the regional conflict, and the targeting of Saudi cities is part of Iran’s plan against regional powers standing up to it. Today, Tehran’s regime is almost completely in control of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Rarely does it find anyone to stand up to it, except for the Coalition and the Kingdom in Yemen. But standing up to Iran’s regime everywhere is a collective necessity, in order to ensure that Tehran pays dearly for its occupations and rein in its control over the region.
The attacks on oil storage facilities in Jeddah and the bombing of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil within two weeks puts negotiators in Vienna before a practical test, away from theory. This is the regime they plan to remove from the sanction list. This is the regime they plan to re-allow as an ordinary state into the international community.
It is not only Saudi Arabia that stands before real risks in the future, but all the states of the region. Iran’s intents know no boundaries or limits. Tehran is only moving forward with no intention to stop, contrary to the common belief that Iran only has its eyes set on Iraq, or that its boundaries end at the shores of Lebanon. The leniency it found in Syria and Lebanon has only paved the way for Tehran to march toward Iraq and Yemen.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.