Tehran took less than 48 hours for a decision to hit back at the surprise air and naval attack launched by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and Egypt Thursday, March 26, to contain the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels’ sweep through Yemeni cities. debkafile’s military sources report that Iran’s top war commander, Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, landed in the Yemeni capital Sanaa Friday, March 27 to organize a counter-offensive and open Iran’s third direct Middle East warfront after Syria (in support of Bashar Assad) and Iraq (with the US against ISIS).
The Saudi-GCC-Egyptian intervention found the pro-Iranian Houthi rebels at the gates of the big port of Aden, which commands the Straits of Bab el-Mandeb, the vital gateway for oil shipping between the Indian Ocean and Gulf through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean. Certain Yemeni army units have joined the rebels. They are armed with advanced US weapons that were supplied for the war on al Qaeda and now serve the revolt against a Yemeni regime recognized by Washington.
This rebel force had already seized most of Yemen’s cities and stretches of its Red Sea coast.
Soleimani’s arrival in Sanaa signaled Tehran’s determination not to give up an inch of the ground gained by its proxies, while underscoring its demand for dominance as the leading Middle East power, promised by Washington in return for accepting a framework deal on its nuclear program.
US officials persist in their public pretense that the diplomatic and the military arenas are unconnected. So the deal is presented as close to signing by the March 31 deadline, while the flames of Shiite-Sunni violence are allowed to spread into another corner of the Middle East.
In the coming hours, Egyptian and Saudi naval and marine forces are planning landings in Aden, according to their military sources. They will fight to contain the Houthi march across Yemen and prevent the fall of its last major town, after two days of Saudi and Gulf air strikes against rebel positions around Yemen.
debkafile’s military sources report that the Saudi and Gulf air forces and Egyptian sea units managed in their first 48 hours to cut off Iran’s air and sea supplies to the Houthi rebels. Gen. Soleimeni will need to find a means of breaking the Saudi-Egyptian blockade and restoring supply routes. Above all, he must determine whether or not to co-opt Iranian air and sea forces to the Yemeni front and so leading them into head-to-head battle against Saudi Arabia and its ten Sunni allies.
Egyptian and Iranian warships maneuvering for control of the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb were reported to have clashed Thursday, the first day of the Sunni intervention in the Yemen conflict.
From outside the region, Pakistan stands ready to step into the contest, promising Friday “a strong response” to any threat to “Saudi integrity.” This opened the door for the Pakistani army to be drawn into the wars of Arabia against Iran alongside the majority of Arab Sunni nations.
Islamabad was responding to a Houthi warning to invade the southern Saudi provinces of Asir, Najran and Jizan, for which they counted on a welcome by the local Saudi populations, most of which belong to the minority Ismaili sect, that is closer to the Iranian Shiite and Houthi Zaydi than to the dominant Sunni faith of the Saudi royal regime.
Friday night, President Barack Obama spoke with Saudi King Salman and reaffirmed US support for the military action taken in Yemen by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies, the White House said in a statement.
Obama and King Salman agreed that their goal is to achieve lasting stability in Yemen through a negotiated political solution, the statement said. Obama also underscored his commitment to Saudi Arabia's security.