After the recent capture of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, by Shiite rebels, an Iranian official has boasted that the Islamic Republic now controls four Arab capitals. The other three capitals are Damascus, Syria; Baghdad, Iraq; and Beirut, Lebanon.
The boast, which was reported in an analysis published yesterday by Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was made by an Iranian parliamentarian, Ali Riza Zakani, who is reported to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Segall pointed out that Zakani’s comments on Iran’s strong presence in the Arab world points to the fact that “the Islamic Revolution has changed the power equations in the region in its own favor and Iran is now at the height of its power, imposing its will and strategic interests on the region as a whole.”
Segall explains that the fall of Yemen to forces allied with Iran is important from a strategic, not just a symbolic, standpoint:
The Houthi Shia rebels, having conquered Sana’a and Al-Hudaydah, are now concentrating their efforts on a further conquest of the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. This key waterway, the southern gateway to the Red Sea, passes through the Gulf of Aden, linking the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean, and historically constituted a strategic hub connecting Eastern and Western trade routes. Yemen overlooks and indeed commands movement through the strait from the island of Miyun (Birim). From the African side, Eritrea and Djibouti overlook the strait. …
Iran also sees Yemen as an important factor in its policy of establishing a physical Iranian presence, both ground and naval, in the countries and ports of the Red Sea littoral, which control the shipping lanes that lead from the Persian Gulf to the heart of the Middle East and onward to Europe. If the Shia rebels gain control of the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, Iran can attain a foothold in this sensitive region giving access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, a cause of concern not only for its sworn rivals Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states, but also for Israel and European countries along the Mediterranean.
In addition to control over the a critical shipping route, control of Yemen could allow Iran to “leverage the Houthis’ gains to step up its effort to subvert the kingdom, with the Shia in the oil-rich areas of eastern Saudi Arabia as its target audience.”
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