Friday, April 24, 2015

Iran vs. America in Yemen and the Gulf

With the tensions in Yemen increasing and Iran and the US backing different sides, it was only a matter of time before the two found themselves at odds. While the US has not participated in the bombing, according to the Saudi news organization Al-Arabiya, they've participated in aerial refueling and other methods of logistical support (including rescuing 2 Saudi pilots whose plane either malfunctioned or was shot down). Several days ago it was reported that an Iranian convoy bearing weapons intended for the Houthi rebels was en route to Yemen. The United States redeployed naval assets and it appears as though the convoy (which includes armed ships) has reversed course and is headed back towards Iran.

The United States has a qualitative advantage militarily and in my estimation these events are a perfect example of this. Iran knows that their naval forces cannot possibly win a conventional battle with the United States, and even approaching the fleet is a dangerous escalation. The situation is quite different than that in Syria for a variety of reasons. While Iran has no trouble sending paramilitary fighters, arms and logistical support to Syria and Hezbollah in Syria, it is much more difficult to send so much through such a busy waterway at a time when the world's attention on focused on Yemen.

There is a not so fine line between supporting guerrilla forces and engaging a military might on its own terms. Iran has always worked asymmetrically (e.g. in Bahrain) and while they are habitual braggarts (Iran's military posturing) their actions tend to be closer to this than brinksmanship. The results here are unsurprising, and underscore the priorities of the two sides; the US wants to preserve hegemony, and while Iran lacks the power to directly confront the US, there are others ways it hopes to use to get around this in its quest for regional supremacy and international recognition.

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