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December 03, 2014

Looming Clash Between Iran and Egypt?


As much of the world media's attention is focused on the conflict in Syria and Iraq or between Israel and the Palestinians, Iran continues to pursue its aggressive strategy of expanding its reach in the region and encircling Israel.

Over the last year, a Yemeni Shi'ite militia, known as the Houthis, have siezed the initiative and taken control of portions of Yemen, including its capital city, Sanaa. The Houthis are widely considered to be an Iranian proxy, reports and photographic images of the militia show them marching with placards suggesting alignment with Iran and Hezbollah. They now are pushing to establish control of the strait of Bab al-Mandeb on the Red Sea. Commanding this strait would give Iran control over the chokepoint between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean.

Jacques Neriah, a retired Israeli colonel, wrote a piece in October describing who the Houthis are and the strategic implications of their takeover of Yemen. Neriah writes,

suspicions about Iranian influence on the Houthis have been borne out by recent developments. On January 23, 2013, the Yemeni Coast Guard intercepted the Jihan 1, a weapons ship carrying 40 tons of military supplies from Iran and bound for the Houthi rebels. At about the same time, Yemeni diplomatic sources accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of training Houthi rebels on Red Sea islands belonging to Eritrea.

On November 12, 2014, I24, an Israeli news site, featured an article by Emmanuel Navon describing the Iranian strategy:

Ali Akbar Velayati, a former Iranian foreign minister who now advises the Supreme Leader Ali Khameni, declared that his plan is for the Houtis to become to Yemen what Hezbollah is to Lebanon... Ali Riza Zakani, an Iranian member of parliament who is also close to Khamenei, added ... there are now four Arab capitals in Iran’s hands: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a... the Iranian ring around Saudi Arabia is taking shape... Iranian journalist Mohammed Sadeq Al-Husseini declared on the pro-Iranian Lebanese television station Mayadeen that Saudi Arabia is a tribe on the verge of extinction and that once Iran controls the Bab-el Mandeb strait, it will block Israel’s access to the Indian Ocean. Iran’s control of Bab-el Mandeb will also make it harder for Israel to intercept ships carrying weapons, which Iran dispatches to Gaza.

An article in Al-Monitor, an Arab news analysis web site, quotes Egyptian officials raising the possibility of Egyptian intervention into Yemen.

Egypt is fighting an Islamist insurgency movement in the Sinai peninsula. It does not want an Iranian proxy controlling access to the Red Sea and possessing ports to hold and facilitate transport of weapons to the insurgency.

In the 1960s, Egypt sent in tens of thousands of troops into Yemen's civil war. As many as 26,000 Egyptian soldiers lost their lives in a fierce war that saw the use of poison gas. The total human toll of that conflict is not precisely known but probably exceeded 100,000.

Israel for its part already has its hands full interdicting the flow of Iranian weapons from East Africa and through the Sinai to the Gaza Strip. Red Sea access controlled by Iranian proxies would hugely complicate these efforts.

The Houthi conquest of Yemen may represent the opening act in a more expansive war that could involve a number of important regional actors traditionally aligned with the United States.

Posted by SS at December 3, 2014 10:22 AM


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