Saudi Arabia and Egypt consider intervening to assist US-backed President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen as Iranian-backed Houthi rebels advanced into the southern port of Aden on Wednesday. The Houthis seized an air base that had been used by US forces for counterterrorism operations and Yemen’s President Hadi fled his palace. Last Saturday, due to the deteriorating situation, the US evacuated its remaining personnel from Yemen including around 100 special operation forces. According to The New York Times, the Houthis’ takeover of Yemen and US security personnel’s consequent withdrawal “has dealt a blow to Washington's ability to monitor and fight al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate.” Moreover, according to the LA Times, secret files with details about American intelligence operations were looted by the Houthis and some were “handed directly to Iranian advisors.”
Iran has played a critical role in providing the Houthis with weapons, money and training. Last December a senior Iranian official said that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sent a few hundred military advisors to Yemen to train Houthi fighters. It has also been reported that Houthi militants have been traveling to Lebanon for training with Hezbollah. A few days ago an Iranian ship brought more than 180 tons of weapons and military equipment to Iran's Houthi allies in Yemen.
Iran’s heavy involvement in Yemen means that the current conflict there risks spiraling into a proxy war, with the possibility that Saudi Arabia may intervene to support Hadi's forces against the Houthis. The Saudis are mobilizing their military on the border with Yemen, though it is unknown if it is for offensive or defensive purposes. The Arab League is scheduled to discuss the possibility of intervening on Friday. Saudi Arabia has taken action against Houthi rebels in Yemen in the past.
The Saudis are extremely frustrated by Iran’s increasing influence in the region. Referring to Iran’s increasing involvement, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal exclaimed that “Iran is taking over Iraq,” at a news conference last month with Secretary of State John Kerry. The Saudis are also concerned that Iran will only become more powerful and aggressive if a bad deal on its nuclear program is signed.
Several analysts believe the Houthi takeover in Yemen and Iraq’s dependence on Iran will facilitate increased Iranian aggression in the region. Oren Adaki, Research Analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, stated that “Iran is exploiting the chaos in Yemen and Iraq in a bid to emerge as the new hegemon of the Middle East.” Frederic Hof, President Obama’s former special advisor for transition in Syria, stated that “Iran's murderous aggression in the region is getting a free pass from the West out of fear that pushback will offend the Supreme Leader and cause him to abandon the talks.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is denying that Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani said that Iran seeks to control Jordan, just as it controls Iraq and Lebanon. Iran has also removed the report of Suleimani's remarks from the Iranian Students' News Agency website.
Al Masdar reported on Monday:
Earlier on Sunday some media outlets reported General Suleimani had allegedly said that “Iran can control both of Iraq and Lebanon and also has such ability in Jordan.”
“Reports which recently emerged over alleged remarks by the commander of al-Quds force General Qassem Suleimani are baseless,” the statement said.
“Alleged analysis and remarks by General Suleimani on the situation in the region and Jordan are pure lies.”