Why Iran might cut its losses in Ye­men

Iran is over­stretched, and the war in Ye­men may not be worth fight­ing any­more

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - WORLD - By Xander Sny­der

Over the past three years, there have been many at­tempts to find a res­o­lu­tion to the war in Ye­men. None have been suc­cess­ful. In Septem­ber, for ex­am­ple, U.N.-bro­kered peace talks col­lapsed when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels de­clined to send a rep­re­sen­ta­tive. But now, it seems con­di­tions in Iran might force that coun­try to cut its losses and limit its in­volve­ment there.

Iran is un­der se­ri­ous pres­sure at home right now due to two fac­tors. The first is U.S. oil and gas sanc­tions, which went into ef­fect Mon­day. The regime in Tehran has al­ready faced sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion re­sult­ing from the coun­try’s eco­nomic strug­gles this year, and the sanc­tions will likely com­pound the prob­lem. With de­clin­ing fi­nances, Iran’s fund­ing of op­er­a­tions in Ye­men might di­vert fi­nances from else­where and cause fur­ther so­cial strain do­mes­ti­cally.

It’s un­clear how much money Iran is spend­ing on Ye­men, but it has supplied its al­lies there with mu­ni­tions, sur­face-toair mis­siles and sur­face-to-sur­face bal­lis­tic mis­siles. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Iran spends nearly $15 bln per year on de­fense, though many be­lieve the real fig­ure is much higher. An­nu­ally, it spends an es­ti­mated $6-20 bln in Syria, $1 bln on Hezbol­lah and $100 mln on Ha­mas. If these fig­ures are ac­cu­rate, its to­tal de­fense ex­pen­di­ture would have to be much higher than $15 bln.

Much of the in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion in Iran has fo­cused on its in­volve­ment in con­flicts abroad and the need to in­vest more at home. There have been nu­mer­ous signs that Ira­ni­ans are in­creas­ingly frus­trated with the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try. Na­tion­wide protests erupted re­peat­edly through­out 2018, and the de­clin­ing value of the cur­rency has made daily ne­ces­si­ties in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive. Some Ira­ni­ans have even taken to so­cial me­dia to apol­o­gise for the Tehran hostage cri­sis in 1979 – a sign that they’re not afraid of regime reprisals.

The sec­ond fac­tor is the loom­ing threat of an Is­raeli war with Hezbol­lah, a staunch Ira­nian ally. On Novem­ber 1, Is­rael warned Le­banon, through France, that it must take ac­tion against Hezbol­lah’s pro­duc­tion of rock­ets in Le­banese fac­to­ries, likely an at­tempt to pub­licly show that it has made every ef­fort to try to avert war. Hezbol­lah has re­ceived rock­ets from Iran for years and, more im­por­tant, has re­cently boasted about get­ting pre­ci­sion mis­siles from Tehran, a far more se­ri­ous threat to Is­rael than ar­tillery rock­ets. Is­rael knows from past ex­pe­ri­ence that, in the case of war, airstrikes alone wouldn’t be enough to elim­i­nate these weapons. Ground op­er­a­tions, there­fore, may be re­quired, and this could sub­stan­tially com­pro­mise Iran’s po­si­tion in south­ern Syria. Le­banon and Syria are ul­ti­mately more crit­i­cal to Ira­nian in­ter­ests than Ye­men is, and if a con­flict in Le­banon is re­ally in the off­ing, Tehran likely won’t want to con­tinue spend­ing its re­sources in Ye­men.

Iran also faces a ris­ing threat from in­sur­gents at home. At­tacks by Ira­nian Kur­dish mil­i­tants in western Iran have in­creased this year. In Oc­to­ber, 29 mem­bers of the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps were killed dur­ing a pa­rade in Khuzes­tan, a strate­gic western prov­ince that shares a por­ous bor­der with Iraq. In the south­east­ern prov­ince of Sis­tanBaluchis­tan, Sunni in­sur­gents ab­ducted sev­eral IRGC mem­bers and are hold­ing them in Pak­istan. The Ira­ni­ans have blamed Saudi Ara­bia for the at­tack, and though Iran has a ten­dency to blame Riyadh and other ad­ver­saries for its prob­lems, this charge is cred­i­ble. In­deed, Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man has threat­ened in the past to take the Saudi fight against Tehran to Ira­nian ter­ri­tory. Riyadh’s in­vest­ments in de­vel­op­ment projects in Gwadar, Pak­istan, near Iran’s eastern bor­der, can also be seen as an at­tempt to in­crease its pres­ence closer to Iran.

Iran, there­fore, is over­stretched and fac­ing threats from all direc­tions. There are signs, how­ever, that other ma­jor play­ers in the war in Ye­men may be gear­ing up for a cease-fire or, at least, a de-es­ca­la­tion in the fight­ing. The Saudi-led coali­tion in Ye­men is bol­ster­ing its of­fen­sive against the strate­gic city of Hodeida. In late Oc­to­ber, it sent 10,000 ad­di­tional troops, in­clud­ing Su­danese forces, to as­sist in the as­sault on the city, which be­gan on Novem­ber 2. The coali­tion claims that it’s tak­ing ter­ri­tory around Hodeida. Pic­tures, videos and other

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