On Jan. 28, 2017, a U.S. military raid in Yemen resulted in the deaths of around a dozen suspected terrorists of the Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, one Navy SEAL operator, and dozens of civilians. Ever since, hardly a day passes by without additional, Yemen-related reports in the U.S. and Western media.
While some are discussing the outcome of this attack and the reasons why U.S. president Donald Trump ordered it, others are meanwhile following Trump’s decision to increase the U.S. involvement in Yemen. All of a sudden, Trump and his aides are now obsessed with Iranian involvement in the country.
Correspondingly, Foreign Policy describes Yemen as the “first battleground in Trump’s confrontation with Iran,” and cited an administration source who said “there’s a desire to look at a very aggressive pushback” against Iran in Yemen.
The rationale for such decisions should be obvious. “Iran almost certainly played a role in the missile attacks against the USS Mason near the Bab al-Mandeb Strait on 9 October and 12 October,” the American Enterprise Institute’ Critical Threats blog asserted.
But as usual, no sources are cited for “almost certain” Iranian involvement — no U.S. or any allied intelligence service, not even anonymous officials. But, everybody is 100 percent sure that Iran “likely supplied the missiles” and the expertise for their use.
Correspondingly, the Trump administration has already deployed the guided missile destroyer USS Cole to the Yemeni coast with the order to “protect shipping from Iranian-backed rebels,” according to Foreign Policy, “and is weighing tougher steps including drone strikes and deploying military advisers to assist local forces.”
Observers in the United States and abroad now have a choice — buy this story as it is, or ask plenty of questions.
One question that comes to my mind is whether shipping off Yemen’s cost is really in need of protection. Armed attacks on shipping are scant, although a militant on a skiff fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a gas ship off the coast in October 2016 — doing no damage. Curiously, this happened around the same time Yemeni rebels found themselves confronted with a near-simultaneous offensive of the Saudi-led coalition in Bab Al Mandeb area.
To this, the Houthis and allied elements of the Yemeni military reacted with attacks on not only Saudi and Emirati military vessels, but also warships of the U.S. Navy that approached the Yemeni coast in the Red Sea. Go into Yemen shooting, and one of the country’s armed factions might shoot back.
The second question that comes to mind is — who are the “Iranians” the Trump administration wants to fight in Yemen?
Eight years since the first Saudi and Israeli reports that tied the Houthis to Iran, the only concrete piece of evidence for Iran’s support is one video showing a “Hezbollah instructor” talking with a group of Houthis in a camp in Yemen.
This footage was captured by Saudi commandos during a raid in Yemen’s northern Sa’ada province in February 2016.
Certainly enough, the Houthis’ Al Masirah television channel is based in Lebanon and supported by Hezbollah. However, the evidence for any further Iranian connection comes up short. Still, not only for the mainstream media but also specialized think-tanks in the USA, Western Europe, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the situation is more than clear: Houthis are ‘Shia-Rebels’, ‘Iranian-backed’, indeed: ‘Iranian proxies’.
Frankly, I’m not the first to conclude that constant reporting that the Houthis are ‘Iranian proxies’ is nonsense. However, the civil war in Yemen is anything but characterised by sectarianism: at least as many Zaidis are fighting against the Houthis as for them; quite a few of Yemeni military units fighting on the Houthi side are entirely staffed by the Shafi (Yemeni Sunnis); and the Houthis are neither followers of the Twelver Shi’a nor of Wilayat al-Faqih (‘Guardianship of the Jurist’) ideologies like the IRGC and Hezbollah officially are.
At least the Pentagon should know this better than everybody else: back in 2015, SOCOM officers who used to work in Yemen clearly described the intervention in Yemen as a bad idea, and expressed their bewilderment over U.S. support for Saudi-led military intervention against a party that has been successful in rolling back the al-Qaeda and then the IS from a number of Yemeni governorates — namely the Houthis. Ever since, all such voices lapsed into silence.
Instead, our media continues building the legend about ‘Iranian-backed’ Houthis. In this regards, nerds like me cannot avoid recalling well-substantiated reports about the Saudi Arabia literally ‘buying silence’ of the Arab media. Can it be the Saudis are doing something similar in the West, too?
As next, cases of reports where evidence for Houthis acting at their own discretion and contrary to Iranian demands are next to never reported in the West. Does anybody recall when Iran warned Houthis against a take-over in Sana’a — but they didn’t listen and marched in? Similar is the case with various of the Houthi representatives repeatedly slamming Yemen-related statements by IRGC’s top commanders — usually in fashion in which not one Hezbollah representative would ever dare addressing Tehran.
Since there is no evidence for Iranians exercising any kind of control over the Houthis, and no evidence for presence of Iranian advisers in Yemen, one is left to hope that the crew of USS Cole might at least intercept one of many shipments of Iranian-made arms said to be supplying the rebels in Yemen.
After all, since autumn last year, our media is feeding us with a steady diet of reports about “accelerated rate of deliveries” of “anti-ship missiles, explosives, money, personnel” and about U.S. and allied forces intercepting one Iranian shipment after the other.
Curiously, while warships of various navies in 2016 intercepted at least four dhows carrying AK-47 rifles, RPG-7 launchers and other weapons off the coast of Yemen, we’ve heard nothing about Iranian arms — specifically — these vessels supposedly carried. We do know one dhow was in fact carrying North Korean arms.
This is remarkably similar to intensive reporting about four or five intercepts from the same area in period 2009–2015. All were declared to have contained ‘Iranian weapons for the Houthis’. However, as a UN report released in June 2015 has shown, they all had the same ‘problem’: they were either crudely constructed ruses, or bound for Somalia — i.e. commercial smuggling enterprises originating from Yemen, not bound for it, and never related to any kind of political background.
At this point, a careful reader might ask — perhaps this is so because US officials know at least since 2009, that Houthis are awash with modern arms and capable of easily obtaining all they needed already at that time? And, how likely is it that the situation changed ever since, considering the Houthis not only took over Sana’a but about 60 percent of the Yemeni military joined them, since late 2014?
We are all left to hope that Trump and his aides have more and better reasons to support their decision to become as obsessed with ‘Iranians in Yemen’ as the Saudis are — than one YouTube video.