The Saudi-led war on Yemen has entered its second year. What is the rationale for this criminal enterprise? We look beyond the obvious and discover another sinister ploy.
Islamic Iran’s role and influence in Yemen have long been overblown and taken out of context. In fact, it is more than that; most commentators have generally misinterpreted Iran’s real connection to Yemen, playing into a pre-packaged propaganda instead of properly assessing the geopolitical reality.
Dancing to the tune of Riyadh’s political and religious paranoia, the Western corporate media have consistently framed the Saudi-led war on Yemen within a sectarian narrative. The Shi‘i-Sunni divide is offered as an answer to the bloodshed that has ravaged this poorest country in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) for more than a year now.
In this tragedy, Shi‘i-Iran is portrayed as playing the role of the foe. It is allegedly the dangerous power that since the dawn of history has worked to pervert and imprint its ideology on the world. This has been presented as a challenge to the mighty and otherwise uncontested will of the Saudi-led Sunni world. This narrative is overly simplistic and utterly false!
It is nothing but a myth, a fairy tale sold to a gullible public to cover very real geopolitical ambitions, and a very real race for control over the world’s oil route. So far Yemen’s war has been reduced to a spat between tribal/political factions whose religious identities have inherently pitted them against one another — a bad replay of Yemen’s 1962 revolution.
An imamate under the rule of a Zaydi (Shi‘i) monarch, Yemen at that time sought military assistance from Saudi Arabia against the supporters of the Yemen Arab Republic, whose leadership was backed by Egyptian President Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir. Some five decades on we have been told ad nauseam that the Houthis — who hail from the same region as the deposed Hashemite Mutawakkilite Kingdom — have ambitions to restore Yemen’s monarchical past, and revive the rule of the Imams to better return Shi‘i Islam to its northern Yemeni glory!
If the Houthis were intent on resurrecting Yemen’s lost imamate, Riyadh would have been more than willing to negotiate. Let us remember that in 1962 it was Riyadh and not the Shah of Iran that ran to Yemen’s aid when Nasirists were carving out a new Arabia, exploding monarchies to usher in republican rule. Sectarianism then, was not an issue. Instead the Houthi-led resistance movement has been conflated with Iran’s alleged Shi‘ization campaign, an argument that echoes a dangerously rancid xenophobia.
A jewel among all geopolitical jewels, Yemen remains a prize to be won for would-be imperial powers — in this case Saudi Arabia. Together a bridge and an access point onto several continents, Yemen also happens to be home to vast natural resources, rich arable lands, and of course water.
It is this race for access and control that Yemen’s war is really all about. Therein lies Iran and Saudi Arabia’s real red line. There lies the realpolitik of Yemen’s war — a conflict that has claimed over 8,100 lives (according to Sheba Rights). In the grand scheme of things, sectarianism was created only as a weapon of mass-deception, and mass-distraction.
Yemen was literally set on fire so that Riyadh could manifest its long held ambition of an oil monopoly. Iran of course, very much a geopolitical power in its own right, was not exactly going to stand by as the Kingdom set out to raise its Wahhabi empire, and thus challenge the Islamic Republic’s regional traction. Of course, when it comes to ambitions, Saudi Arabia and Iran stand as polar opposites. While the former only understands absolute feudality, the latter prizes cooperation and self-governance.
Where the Kingdom seeks to impose, the Islamic Republic wants to empower. Both, however, meet in their desire to contain the other’s ambitions in southern Arabia. If ever there was in fact a proxy fight in Yemen, it would be over the control of Bab al-Mandab (the world’s oil route) and the Saudi, US-backed would-be Hadramawt pipeline — notwithstanding of course Yemen’s water potential in a region where desertification is a matter of national security.
As Nafeez Ahmed, an investigative journalist and international security scholar, wrote for Middle East Eye, “Secret cables and Dutch government officials confirm that Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen is partly motivated by an ambitious US-backed pipeline fantasy.”
Yemen’s war needs to be looked at from the Saudi oil security perspective: after all it was the Kingdom that unilaterally declared war on its neighbour on March 26, 2015 just around the time when Yemen’s political factions were close to agreeing on a tentative political truce. Yemen was set on fire through war so that its land and its resources would remain under the control of Riyadh, and by extension the United States.
Yemen’s oil and gas reserves pale in comparison with that of its neighbours — although foreign oil and gas companies’ interests suggest the country has more to offer than officials might have proclaimed — and so, the country’s real strength lies in its geography.
With a coastline stretching over 1,000 miles, this poorest country in the Arabia Peninsula sits atop the world’s most strategic chokepoint. Should the Persian Gulf monarchies lose control over it, the Arab world as we know it would simply cease to exist. This explains why the GCC countries and their regional allies, including of course Western powers, responded to Riyadh’s call for war so fervently.
What would happen if unruly Yemen were to unite with non-aligned Islamic Iran, and resist imperialism’s power-grab in the region? What power would then curtail the Islamic Republic’s hold over those nations that for the longest time have sought to curtail Yemen’s independence.
Beyond control over the world oil route, Yemen offers an alternative that would directly challenge Iran’s regional influence and oil security: the Hadramawt pipeline project. As divulged by a secret 2008 US State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks, from the US embassy in Yemen to the secretary of state, Saudi Arabia very much would like to re-route the oil flow through Hadramawt, cutting off Iran altogether. The cable reads, “A British diplomat based in Yemen told PolOff [US embassy political officer] that Saudi Arabia had an interest to build a pipeline, wholly owned, operated and protected by Saudi Arabia, through Hadramawt to a port on the Gulf of Aden, thereby bypassing the Arabian Gulf/Persian Gulf and the straits of Hormuz… [former President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah] Saleh has always opposed this. The diplomat contended that Saudi Arabia, through supporting Yemeni military leadership, paying for the loyalty of shaykhs and other means, was positioning itself to ensure it would, for the right price, obtain the rights for this pipeline from Saleh’s successor.”
Yemen’s war was devised long ago — a last attempt to protect those interests that the regional players cannot afford to abandon. Everything else is mere political window dressing.