By Zaher Mahruqi
Latest reports plainly confirm the fact that the GCC will not stand idle as the Hoothis take over Yemen. The block might have been more at ease with the Hoothis occupying some areas while president Hadi is overseeing the other parts; that at least suggested a standoff that had a potential to be worked out peacefully. The Sunnis effectively had a bargaining chip that the Hoothis are systematically occupying.
Now that it is clear that the Shia group is intent on swallowing the whole of Yemen, the GCC is at last not shy to openly say that it would intervene militarily if necessary. At this point the GCC has no other choices. But is Iran reckless enough to let the situation get out of control knowing well that it would have created for itself more enemies than any other time in its history?!
Reckless it is. Previously, Iran claimed that it only intervened where and when Shia holly sites were in danger or in protection of Shia pilgrims. And when it did intervene, it did so in a camouflaged manner that appeared less confrontational. But as of late, Iran is intervening for totally unrelated reasons and with more openness and ferocity as ever. These could signal unprecedented confidence levels in the part of Iran but it is more likely acts of desperation.
Iran feels cornered. If it wasn’t for the rise of the Islamists in the region, Bashar al-Assad would have fallen by now. The reason the Americans have allowed Assad to stay this long is the fear of political vacuum which the likes of the IS would swiftly utilize. Hezbollah is also in a tight spot with its soldiers in Syria increasingly being routinely killed and Israel’s Netanyahu is eager to avenge the humiliation suffered by Hezbollah retaliatory attack last February that left many Zionists soldiers dead.
Even though, facts on the ground do strongly point to one fact only and that is that Iran is up to something sinister and aggressively so. As it relates to Syria and Iraq, Iran is already an occupier; in some parts directly, in others through its militia agents, and in areas in which it is least intrusive its occupation is of financial and spiritual nature. But Iran knows that Syria is a foregone conclusion, Hezbollah has newer challenges, the IS is next door and as such Iran might just be desperate to preserve Shia Iran.
Iran still holds Lebanon as a hostage via Hezbollah which now appears more a soldier of Iran than a resistance force for Lebanon. Once a hero for Arabs against Israel, Hezbollah is now a hero for Iran against Arabs! The group is perhaps paying back the favor for its own inception and nurturing but the more likely reality is that Hezbollah and Iran are one and the same and the ambitions of Hezbollah are intertwined with Iran more so than Lebanon and the Arab world. It is hard to miss the sectarian undertone of Iranians activities across the Arab world.
Iran’s military support of the Hoothis among other activities amidst international calls for peace talks leaves no doubt that Iran is only interested in Hoothis expansion in Yemen as a final attempt at maintaining and expanding a Shia Empire. Iran sees Yemen as a potential strong ally against Saudi Arabia but the GCC will never allow Yemen to be under Iran’s control; be it direct or indirect control.
While Bashar Al-Assad is no longer in control and is essentially forced to allow the Iranians to take over to ensure his own survival, the Hoothis have no choice but to listen and act on the orders of their financiers and spiritual source. And while Bahrain is not yet where Iran wants it, the seeds have been planted waiting for the right season. The season that will arguably never arrive as the GCC is now awakening to the serious threat that Iran has been posing for a long time.
If Iran’s behavior doesn’t change soon, the GCC will have to intervene and intervene very strongly. It is a confrontation that the block will have to choose either to engage now or wait to see Iran’s next move after Yemen; judging from Iran’s moves of the past few months, waiting is very risky. It is a difficult call and no one envies the position of the GCC leaders at this juncture.
By now everyone knows that no war in the Middle East can be ended with airpower alone and as such soldiers must be sent in. Arming the Sunnis in Yemen would only guarantee a protracted civil war which is dangerous for the GCC. As such that is not a very effective long term approach. But the fact remains that, from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain among other places, a Shia-Sunni world-war has been ignited.
The Shia-Sunni war was always in the making as the recent level of violence highlights the deeply held long time grudges. What has brought it up now is the Arab springs on the one hand and the rise of Islamists on the other. It appears that the GCC as governments see the urgent need to take on the challenge sooner rather than later. Though the West will support the bloc, the GCC needs to show willingness to act and to lead. That is what the recent statements from the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia regarding probable intervention were intended to confirm and affirm.
The real miscalculation was that Iran was counting on the GCC’s seemingly docile pose to continue while it progressively engaged in Shia expansion. On the other hand, the GCC was counting on the notion that Iran would never engage in such direct and aggressive expansionary activities.
Given that the GCC is taking a more confrontational posture and Iran faces Israel as another opportunists and the West is all anti Iran, the Persian nation would be making a serious error to allow the Hoothis to end up igniting what might be impossible to extinguish.
Iran simply cannot fight the IS and other Islamists, the Europeans, Israel, the US and the Arabs; all at the same time. Russia too won’t risk a World War for Iran and its role would be just as effective as it has been in defense of Syria. If you add to that the Ukraine and the falling Ruble, it’s easy to predict that in case of a war Russia will largely remain on the sidelines.
With all those factors in mind, it appears that Iran will make a U turn but if it doesn’t, it is clear that for the Gulf, an intervention now is far less risky than waiting until the Iranians are in its doorsteps via Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. The other issue that makes GCC action imminent if Hoothis continue expanding in Yemen is of course the destabilizing factor of a civil war that would directly impact the GCC through refugees and otherwise.
What is likely to happen in the more immediate phase is that the GCC would transfer the massive stockpile of weapons that were procured in past decades and never used in combat unto Hadi’s forces- If they haven’t already started arriving. If that proves insufficient, the most likely start for the GCC would be airstrikes that Hoothis would not be able to withstand. Ground offensive would most likely come when Hoothis have been degraded and are on the run. When this begins, Iran will either let it happen or escalate the matter farther. The former is more likely.