Iran and Yemen - Dangerous manoeuvres in the Middle East

The Saudi-led coalition bombing of Yemen has driven 300,000 people from their homes

As the US grip on the Middle East weakens, so Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are competing for positions. A Saudi-led coalition of 11 countries, backed by the US, Britain, France, Turkey and Belgium, began bombing Yemen on 26 March 2015. By mid-May, an estimated 1,500 people, mainly civilians, had been killed, 300,000 people had been driven from their homes and 700,000 were in dire need of food. Saudi Arabia says it wants to reinstall Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as president of Yemen and to curb Iranian influence. Hadi was deposed by Houthi militia in September 2014 and fled Aden for Saudi Arabia on 25 March. Yemen’s people are victims of intensifying regional conflict. Israel sides with Saudi Arabia, but US and European imperialism are seeking to co-opt sections of the Iranian ruling class while maintaining their regional alliances. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

Iran and the P6 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) reached a ‘framework agreement’ on Iran’s nuclear programme on 2 April 2015 and a final agreement is due by 30 June. A deal should result in the removal of sanctions against Iran and a realignment of Iran’s relations with the US and Europe. Saudi Arabia and Israel fear this would reduce their own strategic significance for imperialism and the benefits this brings. A former US special envoy to the region said the Saudi attack came when Yemeni factions were close to a deal. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies, except Oman, want to sabotage any nuclear agreement with Iran. Saudi Arabia is joined in attacking Yemen by Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, Sudan and Malaysia. Russia, China and Iran oppose the attack. The US refuels Saudi fighter jets, provides intelligence for targets and patrols off Yemen’s coast to stop Iranian supplies arriving.

Saudi Arabia and its partners are drawn from the Sunni branch of Islam and justify their war on Yemen by claiming they are resisting the spread of Iranian-driven Shia influence. Houthis are mainly from the Zaidi religion, part of Shia Islam, but historically independent of Iran. Saudi Arabia and Israel accuse Iran of exerting regional influence through Shia militias in Iraq, by supporting the Assad government in Syria, backing Hezbollah in Lebanon and now the Houthis in Yemen.

The Republic of Yemen has 25 million people, about a third are Houthis. Yemen is the poorest Arab country. Malnutrition is rife and only half the population has access to safe drinking water. As in the NATO attack on Libya in 2011, food storage depots have been targeted for bombing; ships and planes carrying food and medical supplies have been prevented from reaching Yemen.

On 27 March Saudi and Egyptian warships deployed to the Bab-el-Mandeb strait off Yemen linking the Indian Ocean with the Red Sea, Suez Canal and Mediterranean, a major oil tanker route. Saudi Arabia said the Houthis and Iran wanted to block the strait. US President Obama accused Iran of arming the Houthis. The Financial Times (11 May 2015) said that Houthis and Hezbollah trained together and that Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards were in Yemen. The US stationed an aircraft carrier off Yemen, claiming it was stopping Iranian weapons getting to the Houthis. The Middle East is bursting with weapons supplied by the US, Britain and France – not by Iran. Human Rights Watch said that there is ‘credible evidence’ the Saudis are using US-supplied cluster bombs. The US has accelerated weapons supplies to Yemen since 2008 as a ‘partner in the war on terror’ and it has been mounting drone attacks there with Special Operations Forces on the ground since 2002.

Weapons build-up

In 2014 Saudi Arabia spent $80bn on its military, six times bigger than Iran’s military expenditure. Since 2005, Saudi arms purchases from Britain’s BAE Systems, have amounted to £12.5bn; BAE Systems trains Saudi pilots. In April, France announced the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets to Qatar worth £5.7bn, and 24 to Egypt. A US contract with Saudi Arabia for fighter jets and missiles with Saudi Arabia will yield US firms up to $150bn over 20 years: weapons sales to the Middle East maintain imperialism’s arms industry.

Nevertheless, despite the death and destruction caused by these sales and the profits that accrue, the Houthis will not be defeated from the air. Saudi and other coalition troops arrived in Aden on a ‘reconnaissance mission’ on 3 May. Large numbers of Saudi troops are on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, but half the Saudi army is of Yemeni tribal origin; they are unreliable. Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan to provide troops, on condition they were Sunni, but 30% of Pakistan’s armed forces are Shia and unwelcome. Pakistan’s parliament voted against sending soldiers, fearing increased sectarian conflict at home. Saudi Arabia provided Pakistan with $1.5bn in 2014, but China said it will cover any shortfall in Saudi aid.

Iran as a potential US ally?

Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries fear an economically revived Iran, which the removal of sanctions could bring, and what they see as US dependence on Iranian-directed Shia militias in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq. Sanctions have cut Iranian oil output from 3.6m barrels a day in 2011 to 2.8m today; oil exports have halved. Billions of Iranian dollars are frozen in foreign banks. To raise oil output Iran will require western investment and expertise. Some 40% of Iran’s existing oil fields have yet to be developed. Multinational capital senses an El Dorado, but sanctions must be removed first and that requires a nuclear deal.

Iran has the world’s fourth largest reserves of oil and is second to Russia for gas reserves. If imperialism can secure a deal with Iran, the potential exists to replace Russian gas supplies to Europe with Iranian supplies. This would increase US imperialism’s ability to isolate Russia and force it into submission.

The Russian government knows US intentions. On 13 April Russia unblocked the sale of its S-300 anti-aircraft missile defence system to Iran. Russian President Putin said the sale rewarded Iran’s flexibility in the nuclear talks and noted the system could be ‘a deterrent factor in connection with the situation in Yemen’. Israeli officials said delivery of the system could ‘precipitate action’; the intelligence minister said it proved Iran intended to use sanctions removal to buy arms.

The Middle East and North Africa possess 70% of the world’s known oil reserves; the Middle East has 40% of conventional gas reserves. Control over oil has been central to imperialist power since the Second World War and to US hegemony. In the rivalry between regional powers and the shifting alignments of US and European imperialism the stakes are enormous. Repeated wars, military coups, the savage suppression of the Palestinians, denying Kurdish rights, arming murderers and generations of corpses testify to imperialism’s determination to fight to the death in the Middle East.

US and Britain out of the Middle East!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 245 June/July 2015


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