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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Actual Biggest News of the Day

The American media is spending the day talking about Hillary Clinton and her announcement that (surprise, surprise) she is running for president.  It is not the big news of the day, however.  Reuters is reporting that the forces supporting the government of Yemen have captured two Iranian officers during battles with the Houthi rebels.  This is the first confirmation that Iran actually has forces in Yemen supporting the Shiite Houthis in their fight against the predominantly Sunni government forces.  The two Iranians were a colonel and a captain who were captured at two different battles.  Both are members of the Iranian Quds forces.

So why is this a big deal.  Isn't it just another example of complicated fighting in the Middle East with Shiites on one side and Sunnis on the other?  The reality is that the presence of the Iranians makes clear that Iran really is trying to take control of Yemen through the Houthis.  Control of Yemen would give Iran two things that would be extremely important.  First, Iran would be able to encircle Saudi Arabia.  The Iranians already have forces in Iraq on the northern Saudi border.  Adding forces on the southern Saudi border via Yemen would put the Saudis in a vise.  It might not be enough to neutralize the Saudis, but it would certainly make them less likely to take on Iran.  Second and more important, control of Yemen would give the Iranians control of the Bab el Mandeb, the narrow passage from the Indian Ocean into the Red Sea.  Artillery in Yemen could effectively close this vital sea lane to all traffic.  That would cut off the Suez Canal and would prevent tankers carrying oil from moving from the Persian Gulf to Europe unless they went all the way around Africa.  Closing or reducing traffic through the Suez Canal would be a terrible blow to the economy of Egypt.  It would give Iran the possibility of cutting off Europe's oil supplies for a long time.  It would let Iran cut off traffic to the Israeli port of Eilat.  In short, it would be a nightmare for the West, the Saudis, Egypt and Israel.

Right now, the Saudis are still using their air force to help the Sunni government forces in Yemen fight the Houthis and their Iranian allies.  Confirmation that there are Iranian soldiers on the ground helping the Houthis could quickly lead both Egypt and Saudi Arabia to intervene with ground forces in Yemen.  The prospect of Arab armies killing Iranians (and vice versa) in Yemen is a big, big step towards a major regional war.  Hopefully, the Iranians will not complete their nuclear weapons in time to use them against the Egyptians or the Saudis.

Of course, American policy in the age of Obama is to help Iran get nukes while making it look like we are trying to stop them.  Meanwhile, we are giving the Saudis help in their fight in Yemen.  Can you say schizophrenic? 


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