You have likely heard rumblings in the news of yet another Middle East conflict, but have you considered the ramifications you may personally face from another war in the region? Yemen has become a battleground where two sectarian rivals—the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and the Iranian Shiites—will fight for power, ideology, and financial gain.
Iran has made its motives abundantly clear: install a caliphate, become a nuclear power, and destroy Israel. To these ends, Iran already purports to control the Strait of Hormuz—a waterway connecting the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The Strait of Hormuz is the most strategically important body of water on earth, as it is the only sea route from which oil from Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and most of the United Arab Emirates can be transported.
Hormuz is known as a choking point—the narrowest bend is only 21 nautical miles wide, which makes navigation tricky given the daft (the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull) of the massive tanker ships. To traverse the Strait, ships pass through the territorial waters of Iran and Oman under the transit passage provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
For decades, Iran has threatened to close the strait, and they have held many military exercises (as recently as February 25, 2015) in which they practice just that – as well as attacking mock US aircraft carriers. Iranian navy chief Admiral Habibollah Sayyari has been quoted saying it would be “very easy” for his forces to shut down the strait. “Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway.”
What does any of this have to do with Yemen and the conflict there? Plenty. The Strait of Mandab, while of much less import, is located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. Control of the Mandab Strait (which connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean) passed to pro-Iranian Yemeni forces Tuesday, March 31 when the Yemeni Army’s 117th Brigade loyal to the former Yemeni President Ali Saleh relinquished positions guarding the waterway to two Houthi commando battalions trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. To strengthen Iran’s grip on the Red Sea gateway, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered two naval ships into the area to fend off a Saudi-Egyptian offensive to dislodge the Houthi battalions now holding the port.
Analysts believe Iran’s interest in Yemen is in part to obtain control of the only other export waterway in the Arabian Peninsula (the Suez Canal is a one-way, inbound route from Europe to Asia and the Middle East). By controlling exports, Iran can drive up the price of oil – while controlling whose oil makes it to market. Fueling their ambitions (caliphate, bomb, destruction of Israel) with $200/barrel oil rather than the current $50/barrel oil (while crippling oil dependant economies). Iran’s tactic has the additional benefit of completely isolating Saudi Arabia–their Sunni rival (who would challenge for the caliphate).
Iran achieving the caliphate position may seem unlikely given that Shiia are a minority in the Sunni dominated Muslim world, but Iran’s tentacles have been spreading far and wide for years now. For instance:
- The Iranian regime helped fund the jihadists in Libya who overthrew Ghadaffi.
- Iran and Syria have maintained a strong, unlikely alliance since 1979 that has continually thwarted efforts for peace in the region.
- Iran has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (who expressly seeks a caliphate) and is pursuing relationships with the new Egyptian leadership.
- Iran is the primary sponsor of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
- Iranian proxies killed an estimated 1,100 US troops in Iraq.
- Al Qaeda and Iran formed an alliance in the 1990s in which Hezbollah trained al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.
- The Sunni terror group Hammas is largely funded by Iran.
Iran has clearly formed alliances in many countries across the Arab world—Sunni and Shia, but is it enough for them to be the genesis of a new caliphate? If they possess a nuclear bomb, the probability increases dramatically.
Iran is well aware of the power and political positioning a nuclear bomb would allow – in the region and the world. And, as one aim (the bomb) begets the other (a new caliphate), we see how entwined their true intentions are.
Iran is the largest exporter of terrorism on the planet. The 9/11 Commission Report says that 8 to 10 of the 9/11 hijackers passed through Iran, facilitating their travel. Iran is also accused of sponsoring at least 30 terrorist attacks between 2011 and 2013 spanning the globe – including Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi – as well as the 2011 thwarted plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US and bomb the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington, D.C.
So what outcome can we expect from the conflict in Syria? If the Saudis achieve victory, status quo will probably remain. If not, Iran will likely utilize its control of the straits, in an attempt to better fund their ambitions – probably igniting more violence across the region (as the Saudi royal family will respond to increased Iranian power and influence).
Iran will presumably infuse the terror organizations they support with additional monies obtained from control of the straits; they will further speed uranium enrichment in a quest for the bomb; and perhaps further their ambition to destroy Israel.
All this could eventually lead to a dramatic spike in the price of oil – hitting you right in the pocketbook, and an unafraid, nuclear Iran sponsoring terror in your backyard.
Yemen may just become the definition of a “linchpin”.