Was Iran responsible for the killing on Monday of Yemen's former president and Earth's ultimate political chameleon, Ali Abdullah Saleh?
Both Houthi-rebel and Saleh-allied sources say that Saleh was either killed when his home was bombed or when his motorcade was attacked outside the capital, Sana'a.
I believe the motorcade story is likelier: footage posted online shows a Houthi-rebel surrounded armored vehicle and a body resembling Saleh. The body shows an apparent execution-style parietal head wound.
But what's the Iran link?
Well, first off, Iran has the key motive to want Saleh dead. After all, it was just two days ago that Saleh pledged to abandon his never-natural Iranian supported Houthi allies and work with Saudi Arabia to end Yemen's two and a half year civil war. That pledge, welcomed by the Saudis, represented an obvious rebuke of Iran and ended its ambition of dominating Yemeni politics via a united Saleh-Houthi front. Reflecting their masters' concerns, Yemen-focused Iranian media fronts have been pumping out propaganda against Saleh "the traitor" over the last few days.
Saleh's assassination also shows professional preparation and capability.
I believe Saleh was killed as his motorcade traveled outside of Sana'a, but it also seems likely that his compound was attacked as well. That invites the question: who has the means to track Saleh and carry out near-simultaneous attacks on both his compound and his motorcade?
The answer: Iran.
The professional skill involved in Saleh's killing also indicates Iran's culpability. Take the photo below, which claims to show Saleh's vehicle, and was posted online by well-regarded Yemeni observers. I've added the red circles to show three things which, assuming Iran's unique match of motive and means, further suggest its involvement.
First off, the car is armored and thus would not have been easy to stop without heavy gunfire.
Yet the car shows only two shots to the front window. Instead, its front left side appears to either have been rammed or to have suffered a shot to the engine. The front left tire has also either been crushed or shot out.
This textbook vehicle ambush/assault suggests that whoever killed Saleh was clever enough to get him to stop the car without a heavy exchange of gunfire. In other words, they were careful and accurate. Moreover, the footage of Saleh's parietal head wound suggests he was then executed outside the vehicle. Iran frequently operates this way, executing people outside of vehicles.
This is just a tactical supposition, of course. But it becomes far more compelling in the context of Iran's power over the Houthi-rebels. Put simply, while the Houthis have their internal disagreements, at the margin, they know that Tehran is either the kingmaker or widowmaker. Witnessing Saleh's effort to realign with Saudi Arabia, the Houthis would have saluted any Iranian revolutionary guards (IRGC) order to kill him.
But they are also highly unlikely to have acted against Saleh without Iranian approval. As last week's ballistic missile attack proves, the IRGC is the supreme Houthi shot-caller and the Houthis would have known that killing Saleh risked Saudi escalation.
Regardless, when it comes down to it, Saleh was an idiot. He should have escaped to a hiding place before challenging Iran on that which it values most: its ability to command the confidence of allies and the submission of its enemies.
In that, Saleh forgot rule number one: If you're playing with the Revolutionary Guards, you must be ready to kill them first.