The Houthi rebellion against Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salah has been simmering off and on for years, pretty well unnoticed by the world, although each year the insurgents have edged closer to the capital, Sanaa. Now, with the help of a massive injection of Iranian weapons, the rebels led by Hussein al-Houthi are near the gates of the capital.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report that Iran is for the first time in its history close to acquiring a strategic foothold in the Arabian Peninsula on the Saudi Arabian doorstep, with access to the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa.
A Western intelligence source following the Yemen scene confided that the war in the mountainous northern Yemen, where five million Zaydi tribesmen, a quarter of Yemen’s population, are concentrated, has evolved into the biggest Iranian-Saudi military struggle ever for control of the Gulf and Arabian regions.
He predicted gloomily that Iran appears to be heading for a major victory over Saudi Arabia and US interests on the backs of the Houthi rebels.
In 2005, Revolutionary Iran began succoring the Yemeni anti-government insurgents from the northern province of Saada and their drive to conquer the rest of the country, after the mullahs of Tehran performed doctrinal acrobatics to confer religious legitimacy to their Zaydi order of Shiite Islam.
This week, the rebels roundly defeated the Yemeni government army’s 1st Mechanized Division and elements of the Republican Presidential Guard, the main prop of the Salah regime. The Houthis cornered two brigades of the 1st mechanized Division and brought them to the point of surrender, then swarmed into the two districts commanding the highways from the north to the center.
President Salah: Iran takes revenge against the US on Yemeni soil
Thursday, July 3, Hassan Al-Haifi wrote in the official daily Yemen News, under the caption: A Standstill Moment: “It appears that the war in Saada is going to bring everything in the country to a standstill for a while to come. With the booms getting louder to those living in the periphery of Sanaa and the pictures getting uglier of the images being exchanged over the Internet, one wonders if Yemeni leaders cannot come to realize that their fellow citizens really deserve better than this. Can the authorities here realize that before trying to pacify the rest of the world, they can start first by pacifying their own homeland?”
Before the government force’s resounding defeat, no Yemeni would have dared to criticize the government so openly, certainly not to suggest that the president pacify the rebels.
Appreciating the pivotal nature of this battle, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources report that Iran and Saudi Arabia poured out masses of aid for their respective clients, the Houthis and the government, to prepare them for a win.
Iranian boats dropped quantities of anti-air ZSU-24 artillery and Katyusha rockets on the Hadhramauth coast of Yemen. The Houthi rebels used them to put the Yemeni air force out of action, forcing government troops to fight without air cover.
Iran also sent over heavy mortars, anti-tank missiles and ample funds to cover logistical costs.
Saudi intelligence, for its part, deployed units on the border of Saada province with orders to respond to the needs of Yemeni government army commanders fighting there. But Riyadh’s main contribution was its outlay of millions of dollars as incentives for the Yemeni field commanders to fight and win the day against the pro-Iranian Houthis.
The Western intelligence observer commented wryly that, while the insurgents were armed with fighting weapons, the Saudi-backed side fought with cash. In the end, weapons beat dollars.
In a bitter diatribe, President Salah told American journalists interviewing him in Sanaa on July 1:
Under the motto “Death to America, Death to Israel,” they (the Houthis) tried to convince ordinary people and the ordinary public that my regime is supported by the USA. They are using the same slogan as Iran, which is revenging itself on the USA on Yemeni territory.”