Is Iran losing its proxy war in Yemen?
The deadly civil war in Yemen has reached a climax after three ugly years. No one can know for sure, but it looks like the coalition led by Saudi Arabia is on the verge of a major victory that could push the Iranian-backed rebels into an enduring cease-fire.A Houthis loss would also be a strategic defeat for Iran and a victory for US allies in the region. Iran is already wobbling under internal pressure for squandering the Obama windfall on expenditures for wars like this outside the country. If Iran proxies were able to capture Yemen it could use the country to threaten international shipping in the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.
The legitimate Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, is poised to retake control of the vital port of Hodeidah, Yemen’s fourth-largest city and its principal port on the Red Sea. Yemen depends on imports to survive and Hodeidah is the port of entry for most outside goods. International aid groups worry a long-term siege there could disrupt the already-limited flow of medicine and food into the country. But the pain is worth the gain – especially for U.S. interests – because of Hodeidah’s strategic importance.
Iran has acted recklessly by supplying and financing Houthi rebels against Yemen’s elected government. These actions have directly contributed to a war that has killed over 10,000, wounded many more and created several million internal refugees. Saudi Arabia, with tacit Western support, has banded together with its regional allies to try to push Houthis back to their historical lands and out of the territories they conquered since early 2015. They are also trying to find a way to stop the Houthis from firing rockets into Saudi cities.
The Houthis have threatened Western diplomatic facilities in Yemen. Indeed, they managed to do what al-Qaeda and ISIS have not since the attacks of 9/11: drive the U.S. official presence out of an allied Arab state. As flawed as Yemen’s previous government was, its violent removal ended a host of U.S.-Yemeni stabilization projects that were designed to make it harder for international terrorist groups to plot strikes from inside the country. This has harmed U.S. interests.
The war keeps getting worse. The Houthis, backed by Iranian logistical support and advisers, have launched missiles at ships in the Red Sea and have targeted Saudi population centers. Thousands of Americans work in Saudi Arabia and are as likely to be struck by these weapons as Saudis. These attacks are generally seen as Iranian proxy attacks, which is destabilizing in a region already rife with sectarian suspicion.