ADEN – Iran-aligned Houthis are escalating violence to unprecedented levels in response to international condemnation of their offensive in Marib and the UN Security Council’s call for an immediate cessation of attacks.
In recent days, Houthis have reportedly mounted seven attacks with missiles and drones to bomb different regions in Saudi Arabia, including the capital, Riyadh. The attacks, however, have been thwarted by the kingdom’s air defences, according to Saudi media.
A UN Security Council resolution, submitted by Britain, condemned the attacks by the Houthi militias on Saudi territory, renewed sanctions imposed on a number of Houthi leaders and extended the mission of international experts.
Instead of disavowing the operations, the Houthi militias’ spokesman Yahya Saree rushed to claim responsibility for the attacks in a statement confirming that the escalation comes as part of a Houthi military plan called “Operation Fifth Deterrence Balance.” Saree said that the operation “continued from Saturday evening until Sunday by using a Zulfiqar ballistic missile and 15 drones.”
The spokesman also revealed that nine Samad 3 jets targeted “sensitive sites” in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, while six Qasef-2k jets launched strikes on “military sites in the regions of Abha and Khamis Mushait.”
The Houthis seek to drag the region to the edge of an open conflict, with the aim of scoring immediate gains in the files of Yemen and the Iranian nuclear agreement, taking advantage of the US and European push towards a regional settlement and the confusion shown by the US administration in dealing with the thorny files in the Middle East.
In confirmation of a link between the Houthi escalation and the Iranian agenda, Kayhan newspaper, which is close to the Iranian regime, revealed that the militias, who make up Iranian military arm in Yemen, were involved in an attack on an Israeli ship off the Yemeni coast in the Arabian Sea.
The newspaper said that “the aggressions in Syria got a response in Yemen and the Sea of Oman “, in clear claim of the attack that targeted Friday an Israeli cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman.
The attack on the Israeli ship was the latest in a series of similar attacks that Tehran is mounting to send a message to Tel Aviv and Western capitals, boasting its ability to disrupt international shipping traffic in the event of a possible military conflict that could erupt over tensions with the United States on the stalled nuclear agreement.
The escalating Houthi attacks on Saudi territory and the targeting of the Israeli cargo ship apparently came in response to the US air strikes Thursday on facilities belonging to Iranian-backed groups in eastern Syria.
The US, observers say, was responding to missile attacks carried out by pro-Iranian militias on American targets in Iraq. Washington’s military moves have so far been defensive rather than offensive, preventing it from imposing the rules of the game in the region.
In recent months, Tehran has boasted of its control over of the Houthi militias in Yemen and its use of these militias to carry out operations that serve its agenda.
The Houthi attacks seemed coordinated to coincide with an escalation by Iran’s proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The moves, experts say, come as part of an Iranian attempt to blackmail the international community and try to extract Western concessions in the region over Tehran’s nuclear programme and the recognition of its role as a regional actor.
Observers believe that the Iranian regime is reaping the fruits of the confused approach of the US administration and its retreat from supporting its allies in the region, especially in Yemen. The new US administration of US President Joe Biden has sent wrong signals about its intentions in Yemen, which encouraged the Houthis to escalate their attacks following their removal from the list of terrorist organisations by the US State Department.
Washington responded to the Iranian escalation against its interests in Iraq through an airstrike in Syria and not in Iraq itself or Yemen, whose north is controlled by one of Tehran’s most powerful proxies in the region. This confirms the absence of a clear American strategy to counter Iran’s regional expansion, which benefited greatly from Washington’s abandonment of its allies in Yemen.
The US did not only end its support for the Arab coalition’s operations in the war-hit country, but it also froze arms sales and reopened the file of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, creating a state of distrust between Washington and its traditional allies who the US critically needs to contain the threats posed by Iran’s escalation.
The Houthi militias in Yemen, which are backed by Iran, are seeking to exploit the US’s state of confusion to boost their military gains on the ground by intensifying their attacks on the Yemeni governorate of Marib. This comes amid a growing conviction among many Yemenis that there is a US-European green light for the Houthis to invade the governorate prior to any upcoming consultations on a final settlement to resolve the conflict in Yemen.
To corroborate their claims of Western dishonesty, Yemenis have been comparing the international reaction to the Hodeidah escalation, when strict red lines were drawn to prevent an imminent victory for the joint resistance forces supported by the Arab coalition on the Western coast, and the international response to the Houthi offensive in Marib.
In a statement on Saturday, the Yemeni foreign ministry expressed extreme surprise at the silence of international humanitarian organisations that do not hold the perpetrator accountable while they watch and hear of the risks faced by millions of civilians and displaced people as a result of Houthi militia assaults that do not respect international humanitarian law.
The ministry also condemned “the shy humanitarian intervention by these organizations in Marib, which did not live up to the minimum level of humanitarian needs.”
“After the Houthi coup in September 2014, the governorate of Marib has become a home to more than two million displaced people, who fled the brutality and oppression of the Houthi militias, the ministry said, stressing that “right from the beginning of February 2021, Marib has endured the largest and fiercest Houthi offensive in which the militias used all kinds of heavy weapons, including artillery, drone bombs and ballistic missiles and in just one night, the city was hit by 10 ballistic missiles.”
Marib is one of the biggest obstacles that have hindered the Houthi project in Yemen. Since the militias’ coup in September 2014, the Iran-aligned militias failed to invade the governorate centre and reach the oil and gas wells in the city, as a result of the steadfastness and resistance of tribes. Later, the Arab coalition intervened directly and managed to liberate several areas in the governorate, pushing the Houthis to the outskirts of Sirwah and Nehm.
Yemeni observers say the Houthis escalated their offensive since Tehran announced the arrival of the officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Sana’a as an ambassador to the Houthi government, which is not recognised internationally.
The Houthi operations, observers add, show a shift in the strategy and timing, indicating an increasing alignment with Tehran’s current regional agenda.