Latest news reports plainly confirm that the GCC will not stand idlly by as the Houthis take over Yemen. The GCC block might have been more at ease with the Houthis occupying just some areas of Yemen, and with President Hadi overseeing the remaining 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 Houthis are systematically occupying.
Now, however, with it increasingly 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 could intervene militarily if necessary. At this point the GCC has no other choice. But is Iran reckless enough to let the situation get out of control knowing full well that the current situation could result in it having created for itself more enemies than at any other time in its history?
Indeed, it does appear that Iran is reckless. Previously, Iran claimed that it only intervened where and when Shia holy sites were in danger or to protect of Shia pilgrims. And when Iran 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. This could signal unprecedented confidence levels on the part of Iran, but it is all the more likely that these are 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 a 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 Israeli soldiers dead.
Nevertheless, the facts on the ground strongly point to one fact: 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. That said, Iran knows that Syria is a foregone conclusion, Hezbollah has newer challenges, with IS next door and as such Iran might just be desperate enough to preserve Shia Iran.
Iran still holds Lebanon as a hostage via Hezbollah which for 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 with Lebanon and the Arab world. It is hard to miss the sectarian undertone of Iranian activities across the Arab world.
Iran’s military support of the Houthis among other activities amidst international calls for peace talks leaves no doubt that Iran is only interested in Houthis expansion in Yemen as a final attempt at maintaining and expanding a Shia Empire. Iran sees Yemen as a potential 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 Houthis 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 — a season that will arguably never arrive as the GCC is now awakening to the serious threat that Iran has been posing.
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 that has highlighted the deeply held grudges. What has brought it up now is the Arab Spring on the one hand and the rise of Islamists on the other. It appears that the GCC sees the urgent need to take on the challenge sooner, rather than later. Though the West will support the bloc, the GCC needs to show a 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, however, 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 an other opportunist, as well as a the West is anti-Iran, the Persian nation could be making a serious error to allow the Houthis to ignite a situation that might be impossible to extinguish.
Iran simply cannot fight at the same time the IS and other Islamists, the Europeans, Israel, the US and the Arabs. Additionally, Russia won’t risk a World War for Iran and its role could be just as effective as it has been in defense of Syria. If you add to that the Ukraine situation and the falling Russian 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 at the doorsteps via Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. The other issue that makes GCC action imminent if Houthis 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 Houthis would not be able to withstand. A ground offensive would most likely come when the Houthis 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.