The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Iran’s sup­port for Houthi rebels in Ye­men is rais­ing con­cerns among de­fense and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials that Tehran is covertly mov­ing to take con­trol of a sec­ond strate­gic choke­point in the oil-rich Mid­dle East.

Iran for years has threat­ened to close or re­strict ship­ping traf­fic through the Strait of Hor­muz in the Persian Gulf, where some 35 per­cent of the world’s oil passes in tankers.

Now, with pro-Ira­nian Houthi rebels in con­trol in Sanaa, the U.S. mil­i­tary fears Iran may be ey­ing the Bab-elMan­deb, a choke­point on the Red Sea that could con­trol all ship­ping traf­fic through the Suez Canal.

“It seems to have been com­pletely missed on why the Ira­ni­ans want sur­ro­gates in power in Ye­men,” said a U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial. “If Iran can place a stooge gov­ern­ment in Ye­men, it can con­trol both the Strait of Hor­muz and the Bab el Man­deb.”

The Bab el Man­deb, or “Gate­way of An­guish” is a 20-mile-wide strait said to be named af­ter an Arab leg­end about an earth­quake sep­a­rat­ing Asia and Africa.

It’s es­ti­mated that 3.3 mil­lion bar­rels of oil pass through the strait daily en route to the Mediter­ranean and Europe. For the Strait of Hor­muz, from which Ira­nian mis­siles and mis­sile craft can di­rectly threaten ship­ping traf­fic from its coast, some 17 mil­lion bar­rels of oil a day are shipped.

Ira­nian con­trol of both the Strait of Hor­muz and the Bab el Man­deb would give Tehran tremen­dous strate­gic power in the re­gion, the of­fi­cial said.

For­mer Pen­tagon of­fi­cial Michael Ru­bin agrees.

“The Bab el Man­deb is the most strate­gic wa­ter­way most Amer­i­cans have never heard of,” said Mr. Ru­bin, now with the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “The Suez Canal is mean­ing­less if Iran shut­ters the Bab el Man­deb. And, if Iran is able to in­ter­fere with ship­ping through both the Strait of Hor­muz and the Bab el Man­deb, they can ef­fec­tively block­ade Saudi Ara­bia.”

Tehran, in re­cent years, has also been cul­ti­vat­ing ties to Dji­bouti, the small North African state on the other side of the Bab el Man­deb.

“At the very least, the Ira­ni­ans want to make it more ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult for the Amer­i­cans to op­er­ate there, and if they can win a toe­hold on the other side of the Bab, all the bet­ter,” AEI’s Mr. Ru­bin said. “Ye­men gets their foot in the door; the Bab el Man­deb means they can slam it shut at will.”

Iran has de­ployed two war­ships to wa­ters near Ye­men, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported April 8.

Robert Rook, a Ye­men spe­cial­ist at Tow­son Uni­ver­sity, said the Ira­nian dis­patch of naval ves­sels is largely sym­bolic be­cause Iran is out­gunned in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea by U.S. and re­gional naval forces.

Mr. Rook said the oil trade through the Bab el Man­deb does not com­pare to the oil ship­ping through Hor­muz, where any dis­rup­tion or threat of dis­rup­tion would af­fect Europe and global oil mar­kets.

“While I see no im­mi­nent, di­rect Ira­nian threat to the oil traf­fic through the Bab el Man­deb, the most re­cent Ira­nian naval pres­ence off of Ye­men is part of a wider pat­tern of be­hav­iors that sig­nal the con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of Ira­nian in­ter­est and in­flu­ences in the re­gion,” he said. “It is this larger re­gional agenda, rather than Iran’s naval ac­tiv­ity or even its sup­port for Houthi rebels that is the greater con­cern.” in­flicted on the peo­ple of the small Southeast Asian na­tion.

A first-per­son ac­count by Seng Ty, who was 7 years old when the mur­der­ous Pol Pot regime took power in Ph­nom Penh, re­veals the suf­fer­ing and death that took place as the com­mu­nists sought to trans­form the coun­try into a so­cial­ist agrar­ian state.

The Kh­mer Rouge pro­duced what has be­come known as the killing fields, some 20,000 mass graves used to bury sus­pected regime op­po­nents.

Mr. Seng re­counts in his book, “Years of Zero: Com­ing of Age Un­der the Kh­mer Rouge,” how the Maoist regime sys­tem­at­i­cally emp­tied cities and towns of any­one clas­si­fied as “New Peo­ple” — those who were mid­dle class or not com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. The ti­tle comes from the 1975 dec­la­ra­tion by the Kh­mer Rouge that a new era was be­gin­ning and that year was Year Zero.

Mr. Seng’s fa­ther, a med­i­cal doc­tor, was tor­tured and ex­e­cuted for be­ing mid­dle class. His mother died af­ter be­ing worked to death and fed star­va­tion-level ra­tions. All seven of his older broth­ers and sis­ters died from star­va­tion.

Com­mu­nist in­doc­tri­na­tion ses­sions were part of the men­tal tor­ture un­der the Kh­mer Rouge. Ev­ery­one was told that un­der the new regime “Angkar,” or “the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” owned ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing. Bud­dhism, prac­ticed by 95 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, was banned.

“The Kh­mer Rouge were … fol­low­ing the Maoist agrar­ian plan to elim­i­nate” wealthy peo­ple, Mr. Seng wrote. “As they saw it, killing the rich and destroying reli­gion [were] an act of re­venge against clas­si­cism and so­cial di­vi­sions.”

The Pol Pot regime was ousted by Viet­namese mil­i­tary forces in 1979, end­ing the sav­agery that left 3 mil­lion peo­ple dead.

Mr. Seng es­caped to Thai­land when he was 13 years old and even­tu­ally re­set­tled in Low­ell, Mas­sachusetts, where he is a teacher.

Con­tact Bill Gertz on Twit­ter at @Bil­lGertz.

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