In a pivotal breakthrough in the Yemen civil war, Thursday, Dec. 11 the naval forces of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAR took by storm from Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels the Greater Hanish island, which is part of the strategic archipelago commanding the Strait of Bab al Mandeb. This is reported exclusively by debkafile’s Middle East sources.
This highly strategic strait links the Indian Ocean with the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea – i.e. Africa and Asia – and is the world’s fourth busiest chokepoint for international oil traffic.
Captured by Yemeni rebels last May, the island was converted by Iranian officers into an armed base and one of Tehran’s largest depots for the supply of arms to its forces and proxies in the region. A fleet of small boats and fishing vessels kept the Yemeni Houthis amply armed for fending off the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting to restore the exiled Yemeni government.
The Hanish island base also provided Iran with a commanding position for spreading its influence in Ethiopia and Eritrea on the eastern African seaboard.
Taking the island was a major breakthrough for the coalition, after long months of combat that was crowned by their capture of the southern Yemeni seaport of Aden in the past three months. With the occupation of Greater Hanish, Saudi-led forces are now in position not just to cut off Iran’s weapons supplies to the Yemeni rebels, but also to break its grip on the vital strait that connects the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.
Iran maintained on Greater Hanish Island advanced radar and electronic tracking stations for keeping an eye on military movements on the southern Saudi border with northern Yemen. They could also shadow oil tanker and other shipping passing through the Red Sea, and stake out Israel’s south- and east-bound sea traffic as it passed through the Gulf of Aqaba.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that Saudi Arabia and Egypt finally decided that the seizure of the strategic island could not be delayed when last month, Iran won a permit to establish an air and sea base in Djibouti, the Horn of Africa nation opposite the Gulf of Aden’s entrance to the Red Sea.
Djibouti derives much of its revenue from renting out tracts of land to foreign nations seeking bases of operation in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. American and French bases are situated no more than 214 km from Greater Hanish Island.
Riyadh, Cairo and the UAE agreed that they could not afford to let Iranian air and naval forces gain control of the Bab El-Mandeb Strait from its twin footholds on the island and in Djibouti.
They were not the only interested parties. It may be taken for granted that their operation to take over Greater Hanish was quietly assisted by Western and Middle East interests that had been watching Iran’s takeover of these vital ocean pathways with grave concern.