False rumors about Yemen
We are surrounded by false rumors about the operation in Yemen.
First of all, Iran’s role in Yemen is being exaggerated. Second, it is speculated that the United States is taking on Iran through this operation.
The target of the “Sunni coalition,” consisting of 10 regional countries and led by Saudi Arabia, are the Shiite Houthis in Yemen. However, this is only the cover of the operation. The main target is Iran, which supports the Houthis.
However, Iran’s role in Yemen is overrated. Tehran is not engaged in Yemen as it is in Syria and Iraq. It certainly provides Houthis with money, arms and training. Yet it is not involved militarily and directly in the country.
Moreover, Iran does not have much influence over the Houthis since it has largely ignored their struggle in Yemen for long years. This is why the group has not become a puppet of Iran like Hezbollah.
Furthermore, Houthis have also not defined their struggle along sectarian lines until recently. The difference between Sunnis and Shiite had been at a minimum in Yemen. It has been just recently deepened by external powers.
In addition, Iran is not the biggest supporter of Houthis. It is Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president who was toppled in the Arab uprisings in Yemen four years ago. He, despite himself being a Houthi, had suppressed the Houthis during his governance. Now he has become their biggest proponent in order to take revenge on President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who replaced him three years ago and has just been ousted by the Houthis.
In other words, the Gulf countries and Egypt which are leading the operation, deliberately overstate the Houthis’ ties to Iran. Through the Yemen operation, they intend to intimidate Iran, which is increasingly becoming the dominant actor in the region, saying “pull back from our backyard.”
Another target of theirs are the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany). Via the operation, the Gulf countries are revealing their discomfort about the recent rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. This must be the reason why the operation was conducted just one day before March 31, which was a critical date for the negotiations.
Beyond all this, Iran has two priorities at the moment. One of them is its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. The second one is the nuclear deal. As such, Yemen lags behind in its priority list.
As a result of all these, Iran does not want to get directly and actively engaged in Yemen. This is why Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said “Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate to solve the Yemen crisis” and called on all parties for calm and dialogue.
Since the U.S. knows this very well, it easily announced its support for the Yemen operation. Ambassador Frederic Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, explains this as follows: “The U.S. administration’s top Middle East priority is to get a nuclear agreement with Iran. And since it sees Syria as central to Iranian designs, it fears pushing back against Tehran there could prompt it to withdraw from the nuclear talks.”
“However,” Hof continues, “the U.S. does not have a similar fear with respect to Yemen.” This is because it knows the Houthis are not a matter of life and death as Bashar al-Assad is for Iran.
Another reason for the U.S.’ support is that it couldn’t refuse the request of the Gulf countries. At the moment, Washington existentially needs the Gulf’s support against ISIL. Moreover, the ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are already strained due to the U.S.’ rapprochement with Iran.
At the same time, the U.S. considers this operation as an instrument to increase the pressure on Iran with respect to the negotiations.
The last reason is that the U.S. intends to curb ISIL and al-Qaeda in Yemen. Although Iran and the Houthis both oppose al-Qaeda, Washington fears that their dominance in Yemen will increase instability in the country and hence cause al-Qaeda to grow.
Moreover, it knows that Sunni tribes in Yemen also oppose the Houthis. ISIL has quickly grown in Iraq by abusing the Sunni outrage against the Shiites. It could do the same in Yemen by allying with the Sunni tribes.
In short, in Yemen, the U.S. is not directly taking on Iran. And it protects its interests with all parties by walking a fine line.
Turkey needs to walk the very same fine line, since it doesn’t fall short of interests to be protected.