Biden administration faces a crucial test in Marib

Iran’s clear objective is to establish a wholly loyal entity in northern Yemen.

Tuesday 11/05/2021
A view of the Safer oil refinery in Marib, Yemen.(REUTERS)
A view of the Safer oil refinery in Marib, Yemen.(REUTERS)

Iran is negotiating with the US in Vienna and other places besides Vienna and continues, at the same time, to exert pressure in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen on the basis that it wields cards in the region with which it can influence America and its local allies.

Tehran is taking advantage of the presence of a US administration that is preoccupied with domestic affairs and with the rising Chinese challenge. In the meanwhile, Tehran pursues a policy that aims essentially to impose a fait accompli in the Middle East and the Gulf.

Iran, through one of its local militias, has bombed the Ain al-Assad base in the Iraqi Anbar province, where most of the American soldiers who are still in Iraq are based.

The Iranian message is clear: The “Islamic Republic” is in a position of strength and is negotiating for the lifting of the US sanctions imposed by the Donald Trump administration and it  is not about to reconsider its behaviour in Iraq and the region.

There is no indication that Iran is ready to discuss any retreat of any kind in Iraq, which it considers the major prize it won in 2003 after the George W Bush administration decided to invade this important country and present it Tehran it on a silver platter.

The US is not the one that is facing off Iran. Washington has always seemed willing to make a deal with Tehran.

This is what happened during the era of Barack Obama and even during the Trump era, albeit it within certain narrow limits.

The previous administration quickly ignored those limits when it took the decision to assassinate Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the “Quds Force” of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the “Popular Mobilisation Forces” in Iraq.

It killed them shortly after they left Baghdad airport in early 2020 and nowhere else. Until further notice, the “Popular Mobilisation Forces” remain Iran’s proxy in Iraq.

For the first time, in many years, an American administration dared to harm Iran’s interests in Iraq instead of taking them into account.

The Trump administration revealed that Iran is nothing but a “paper tiger” and that America’s consistent problem since the detention of American diplomats in Tehran for 444 days from November 1979, lies in surrendering to the wishes and desires of the “Islamic Republic”.

It has become quite obvious that those confronting Iran in Iraq are the majority of the Iraqi people, including its Arab Shia, who refuse to see their country gravitate into an Iranian orbit or that Iraq’s wealth be pilfered by Iran.

A fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government fires a gun from an armoured vehicle during clashes near the northeastern city of Marib. (AFP)
A fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government fires a gun from an armoured vehicle during clashes near the northeastern city of Marib. (AFP)

Iran is claiming that it is entitled to Iraqi compensation due to the eight-year war.

It ignores the fact that regardless of who started that war in 1980,  Iran was still responsible for prolonging it and for the losses that have befallen the countries of the region.

Should we take into account what happened in Iraq and Iran’s practices in the Iraq and Syria war? In the Syrian theatre, Iran is the main partner in the war waged by the minority regime against its people.

Likewise, a long chapter can be devoted to the Iranian presence in Lebanon, where the “Islamic Republic” exercises complete tutelage over the country and backs a president who refuses to form a government.

What is striking now is the Iranian intransigence in Yemen and the successive attacks launched by the Houthis on Marib.

It is no longer a secret that Iran is aiming for the fall of Marib, while negotiations are continuing between it and the Americans.

Its clear objective is to establish a wholly loyal entity in northern Yemen. The Iranian ambassador to the Houthis, Hassan Erlo, pre-empted any settlement, saying immediately after Riyadh proposed a peace plan this March, “The Saudi initiative is a permanent war project and a continuation of the occupation and war crimes, not an end to the war.”

He set conditions for the “Islamic Republic” to end the war in Yemen, saying in his tweet, “The real initiative should be a complete end to the war, the complete lifting of the siege, the end to the Saudi occupation, the withdrawal of its military forces, withholding support to mercenaries and takfiris with money and weapons and a political dialogue between Yemenis without any external interference.”

Iran has not deviated from pressing its assault on Marib, using the Houthis, whose decisions are clearly taken in Tehran and not elsewhere, considering the US administration’s wavering and confusion.

Moreover, it is increasingly obvious that Hassan Erlo, who is an officer in the “Revolutionary Guard”, controls Sana’a and that Iran is the ultimate decision-maker.

Once again, the battle of Marib is quite crucial, especially as its fall would  establish a viable entity in Yemen under full Iranian control.

In Marib, there is a dam built by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, may God have mercy on him, and inaugurated in 1986. There are also oil wells. Gas is pumped in the direction of Shabwa governorate. There has been a pipeline linking Marib and Hodeidah since the days of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In the present circumstances with the efforts being made by the US envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, the Biden administration faces a real test. The name of this test is Marib, which is threatened by the Iran-backed Houthis.

The Marib issue raises a number of issues. The first is whether or not the Biden administration gives in to Iran. Will it accept negotiations with Tehran in light of the pressures Iran exerts in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen?

Most of all, we will soon know what will happen in Marib. We will also know if the Biden administration is Barack Obama’s third term in office.

What US officials should keep in mind is that Barack Obama had surrendered to Iran outside of Iran.

He surrendered to Iran in Syria, where he spoke in 2013 of a “red line” that the regime is not allowed to cross, namely chemical weapons.

The regime used chemical weapons in its war on Syrians. The result was that Obama became oblivious to the colour red while he saw all other colours.

In the absence of a clear US position on the Houthi or Iranian attacks on Marib, there will no longer be a need for an American envoy to Yemen.

Before even heeding American interests in Yemen and focusing on stopping the war,  the credibility of the US special envoy needs to be protected because his arguments have not been that  far from the Saudi peace initiative. The Houthis rejected the initiative for Iranian considerations and those alone.