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In Massive Pushback to Iranian Ambitions, Saudis Launch Military Campaign in Yemen

A coalition of Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, launched airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen early today, The Washington Post reports:

The strikes were a startling turn of events that came as the Houthis, in control of Yemen’s capital for months, barreled south toward the coastal city of Aden, seizing an air base along the way that was evacuated by U.S. Special Operations forces­ last week.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who had taken refuge in Aden after fleeing Sanaa, the capital, was said to have escaped. His whereabouts were unknown.

The military operation was announced Wednesday evening in Washington by Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, who said it would last until Yemen’s “legitimate government” was restored.

So far, no military actions beyond airstrikes have been reported. While the Saudis have an estimated 100,000 ground forces deployed at the border, the Post points out “any ground intervention would require a long and difficult trip through the heart of Houthi-held territory to reach Aden.”

According to the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) except for Oman have deployed jets in support of the Saudi operation, called Decisive Storm. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan have also have sent ships and planes to assist in the attacks on the Iranian-backed rebels.

Al-Arabiya also reports:

“President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The Saudi-led military coalition declared Yemen’s airspace as a “restricted area” after King Salman bin Abdulaziz ordered the airstrikes on the Iran-backed Houthi militia on Thursday at 12 a.m. Riyadh time.

In a statement last night in the United States, Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir explained that the goal of the Saudi offensive was to restore “the legitimate government of Yemen.”

“Having Yemen fail cannot be an option for us or our coalition partners,” Al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington shortly after Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz ordered a military operation against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. …

Al-Jubeir said the Saudi airstrikes were designed “to prevent Yemen from falling into the hands of the Houthis,” but the reality is that the capital and some of the country’s main cities have already fallen to the group, and ground troops will be required to take them back. The ambassador said he didn’t want to discuss military details.

It was unacceptable, Al-Jubeir said, that a “militia,” as he called the Houthis, should have air power, along with “ballistic missiles, heavy weapons as well as military bases and ports.”

Al-Jubeir noted that despite extensive diplomatic efforts, the Houthis “have always chosen the path of violence.”

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is in Lausanne, Switzerland for nuclear talks with the West, denounced the Saudi military operation.

“The Saudi-led air strikes should stop immediately and it is against Yemen’s sovereignty,” the Students News Agency quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying.

“We will make all efforts to control the crisis in Yemen,” Zarif said, according to the agency’s report from the Swiss city of Lausanne where he is negotiating with six world powers to resolve a years-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Over the past several months, The Tower has covered the growing crisis in Yemen as the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have gained power and brought down the Yemeni government.

In October, the Houthis captured Sanaa and prevented the formation of a government. Shortly afterward, Iran acknowledged its support of the Houthis and an Iranian official boasted that with the fall of Sanaa, Iran controlled four Arab capitals. In November, members of the Iran-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah were reported in Yemen training the Houthis.

In January of this year, the Houthis stormed the presidential palace in Sanaa. The government of Yemen eventually resigned when the Houthis reneged on a power-sharing arrangement.

Last month, prompted by the growing chaos in Yemen, the United States closed its embassy. Earlier this week, the U.S. evacuated all of its personnel from Yemen.

Earlier this week, in an article for Bloomberg View, Eli Lake wrote:

[House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ed] Royce said that even before the negotiations began, when the U.S. unfroze some Iranian assets at the end of 2013, ambassadors for Gulf countries predicted the cash would be used to destabilize the region: “We’re seeing today what every Gulf ambassador predicted Iran would do, we’re seeing Iran destabilize the region.”

[Photo: AFP news agency / YouTube ]