Eight armies are fighting for dominance in Yemen, a country of 25 million inhabitants:
The (1) Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents, together with (2) a breakaway force, are battling (3) the army loyal to President Abdulrabbuh Mansur Hadi, which is supported by (4) Saudi, (5) Egyptian and (6) UAE military forces and (7) their hired legion of Colombian mercenaries.
(8) Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) elements, most acting as advisers to the Houthi rebels, intervene actively from time to time. Last October, they conducted missile attacks on US vessels on the Red Sea from shore batteries. In response, the US Navy on October 9 and 12 knocked out those batteries and the radar stations that were manned by IRGC teams.
Tehran countered by deploying to Yemen long-range Shahed 129 drones carrying Sadid-1 rockets and sowing sea mines around the international Bab Al-Mandeb Straits.
US President Donald Trump’s sharp warning on Friday, 3 February, after just two weeks in office, was that Iran was “playing with fire.” The fresh round of sanctions he clamped down were galvanized by Iranian aggression in Yemen and the Red Sea as much as by its ballistic missile test.
Indeed, the deployment of the USS Cole destroyer to the strategic Red Sea Straits of Bab Al-Mandeb on the same day turned the compass needle of war straight toward Yemen as the potential arena for a US military response to Tehran.
In fact, the escalating tension between the US and Yemen could easily explode into a military encounter, such as a US special operations force going into Yemen to strike IRGC targets.
DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Trump administration might find this battleground expedient for six reasons:
1. Political cover. It would enable the US to keep the confrontation within controlled limits, by claiming it was acting against the Houthi insurgents in Yemen - not a directly attack Iran.
2. Exposure of Iran's duplicity. If Iranian Revolutionary Guards “happened” to be caught in the fire, Washington would ask what they were doing in Yemen, when Tehran denied its intervention in the Yemeni civil war.
3. A muted response from Tehran. The Islamic Republic would not necessarily be compelled to hit back directly so long as the US avoids direct attacks on its soil.
4. Support for US and Israeli allies. It would provide serious support for the Saudi and UAE armies, whose armies’ entanglement in the Yemen conflict is deepening without their making real headway against the Houthis. President Trump would show Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Cairo, that he is on their side in the fight against Iran.
5. Potential to remove Iran from Yemen. Iran is capable of coping with the regional armies ranged against the Houthi rebels, but any substantial US military intervention might force Iran to reconsider its support for the Yemeni insurgency.
6. Moscow does not have a presence there. The Russians are not involved in Yemen and any US intervention can be kept quite separate from the Trump administration’s evolving political and military partnership with Moscow in Syria.
Notably, and in this vein, Washington is keeping its hands off Libya where, last week, the Russians began sending military advisers to assist the American-Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, who controls large parts of the eastern oil-rich region. The planes which fly-in Moscow's advisers are returning with Hafter’s wounded men for hospitals in Russia.
This is a lightly edited version of the original article published by DEBKAfile at http://debka.com/article/25916/Yemen-shapes-up-for-US-Iran-military-clash