The killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Iran-backed Houthi militias was Tehran’s latest desperate measure to save face in a war it’s losing. If Iran enjoyed the upper hand in Yemen, matters could have been resolved with talks from a demanding position.
Knowing Saleh and his inner circle had a long slate of information about their ties, the Houthis and Iran could not afford to allow Saleh to change sides and join the Saudi-led coalition. And now, the Iran-Houthi alliance face losing a large number of men in the aftermath of Saleh’s assassination.
For years, Iran has pursued a campaign aimed at taking full control over the strategically-located country of Yemen. This dangerous initiative charged forward to the point of taking over nearly the entire country and ousting virtually all forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi from the port city of Aden in southern Yemen back in 2015.
Realizing the devastating potential of such a defeat, Saudi Arabia led an Arab World assault, providing air power and ground forces in support of Yemen’s nationalist troops. Nearly three years later, the Saudi-led coalition has regained around 85 percent of Yemen.
Following an alliance riddled with tension, the past week witnessed a major rift in the already shaky union between Saleh’s loyalists and the Houthis that follow Tehran’s orders.
Monday morning local time began with conflicting reports of Saleh’s death. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, was conveniently the first outlet to report the former Yemeni leader’s death.
His death climaxed the recent dispute between the Houthis and Saleh’s loyalists, as follow-up reports indicate a call by Hadi for Yemen’s population to rise against the Houthis. Saudi officials have also indicated how Yemen will be the first Arab state liberated from Iran’s influence.
Iran’s regime understands and is deeply concerned that Saleh’s departure will set an example for other allies and surrogates to break rank. Comprehending how the entire country is slipping out of its control and the Houthis may once again be forced into to hiding in northern Yemen, Iran desperately needs to cling to every possible strand of control.
From Iran’s perspective, this crisis, coupled with a new wave of international isolation, is a recipe for disaster.
France and Germany have recently demanded Iran reverse its controversial ballistic missile program, neglecting Tehran’s claims of such measures bearing defensive characteristics. Paris’ top diplomat also delivered a devastating blow to Iran in calling for the regime to end its “hegemonic temptations” across the already flashpoint Middle East region.
And word is out about a Saudi initiative to push forward the Israel-Palestine peace process. Although speculations over the details vary, the sheer possibility of success in this regard is yet another blow to the Iranian regime’s blueprints of constantly maintaining the Middle East in a fluid state of hostility.
Riyadh has also recently signed 18 energy memorandums of understanding with Iraq focusing on oil. This is another sign of Iran losing hegemony over Iraq to its Middle East archrival.
Meanwhile in Lebanon, Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist proxy, is losing both political and military clout at home and in the neighboring region.
For the world to begin experiencing true peace, a strong international front is needed to adopt coordinated measures by the U.S., Europe, and the Arab World to increase the price of Iran’s bellicosity. This initiative can start with liberating Yemen from Iran’s influence.
Such an effort will also send a necessary message to the Iranian people that the regime ruling their country for nearly 40 years no longer enjoys rapprochement-rendered concessions. This will be a boost to their efforts focused on establishing peace and democracy.
Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an Iranian human rights activist.
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