Iran’s dangerous proxy war challenges the world
Yemen’s Houthis have been boasting about their March 25 barrage of missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. Both the boasts and the attacks — more than 100 missiles fired at Saudi cities and installations — are clearly meant to please a belligerent and increasingly disillusioned domestic audience.
The Houthis, however, are playing a dangerous game by escalating their attacks. The seven missiles lobbed at Saudi Arabia March 25 killed an Egyptian resident of Riyadh — the first such fatality from a Houthi attack — and wounded two.
The attacks, which coincided with the third anniversary of Yemen’s war, once again highlight the role played by Iran in the Yemen conflict. Tehran continues to deny supplying its Houthi proxies with weapons and other military support but Iran’s destructive role has been documented over and over by Western powers as well as by UN researchers.
A senior Iranian official told Reuters that the commander of Iran’s al-Quds Force recently discussed ways to further “empower” the Houthis. “At this meeting, they agreed to increase the amount of help, through training, arms and financial support,” the official said.
Clearly, it is entirely legitimate for the Saudi-led coalition to reserve the right to respond to Iran’s behaviour.
The international community increasingly seems to appreciate the urgency of Riyadh’s complaints about Iran’s malevolent influence in Yemen. The US State Department said Washington backed the Saudis’ “right to defend their borders against these threats.” Britain called on Iran to “stop sending in weapons which prolong the conflict.” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a radio interview: “There is a problem in Yemen. It is that the political process has not begun, that Saudi Arabia feels regularly attacked by the Houthis, who are themselves supplied with arms by Iran.”
Amnesty International weighed in, too. Its Middle East deputy director for campaigns, Samah Hadid, said a higher death toll may have been averted because the missiles were intercepted but that “doesn’t let the Houthi armed group off the hook for this reckless and unlawful act. These missiles cannot be precisely targeted at such distances, so their use in this manner unlawfully endangers civilians.”
The Houthis’ missile barrage came even as the UK-based investigative organisation Conflict Armament Research released a report accusing Iran of supplying the Yemeni militia with components for roadside bombs. These are also used by other Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain.
Experts see Iran’s blatant disregard for regional and international peace and security as particularly alarming right now. Tehran seems to be playing the Houthi hand to distract attention from domestic woes as well as to stare down its neighbours. It is signalling its capacity for mischief to the United States, especially now that the Trump administration is hardening its position and may abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
In the circumstances, the region and the wider world must brace itself for more provocative behaviour by Tehran.