The United States on Thursday presented for the first time pieces of what it said were Iranian weapons supplied to the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in Yemen, describing it as conclusive evidence that Tehran was violating U.N. resolutions, according to Reuters.
While it is understandable that the US and its allies in Saudi Arabia are frustrated with the Yemeni stalemate and seek reasons to sanction Iran despite its compliance with the nuclear deal (JCPOA), the arguments that are being used to that end are lacking substance and veracity.
On closer scrutiny the ongoing struggle against Iran has an eerie feeling of déjà vu of building up the case against Iraq in the lead-up to 2003 invasion. This time the ‘evidence’ was presented by the US Ambassador at UN, Nikkey Haley at a military base, just outside Washington, DC.
For example, regarding the Iran’s alleged supplies of missiles, the United States acknowledged it could not say precisely when the weapons were transferred to the Houthis, and, in some cases, could not say when they were used.
Even New York Times agreed that, despite the Trump administration efforts to mount a case that Iran violated an international agreement to limit its arms dealing, American officials failed to show how an array of weaponry presented as evidence proved the charges.
But US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she was confident the transfers could be blamed on Tehran, despite a total Saudi-imposed blockade on the embattled southern neighbor that does not allow even humanitarian aid or food to enter the country.
The US was similarly confident about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). No WMDs were found in Iraq after 2003 invasion. Intelligence on which the decision was made was fatally flawed.
During her presentation, Haley did not mention Saudi bombings in Yemen, which have led to mounting international pressure on the Saudi kingdom to justify the three-year war, in which military errors have claimed many civilian casualties, and caused a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
The Thursday presentation, according to Haley, is part of President Trump’s new Iran policy, which he promised would take a harder line on Tehran. But the Houthis had another opinion on the real reasons behind allegations against Iran.
Abdel-Malek al-Ejri , Yemen’s Houthi group spokesman dismissed US accusations that Iran had supplied a missile fired at Saudi Arabia last month, saying it was an attempt to divert attention from the United States’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, according to Reuters.
“After three years of war, America suddenly finds evidence that Iran supports the Houthis,” Abdel-Malek al-Ejri was quoted as saying.
“America did not find any evidence in all the missiles fired from Yemen until now. The story is clear. They want to give Arabs a story to divert their attention from Jerusalem. Instead of being angry at Israel, they wave the Iranian bogey,” he added.
Similarly, Iran has rejected the accusations as unfounded, calling them fabrication and part of a pattern of false accusations by Washington. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Twitter compared Haley’s assertions with those of Collin Powell in 2003 on Iraq, saying: “When I was based at the UN, I saw this show and what it begat…”
During the presentation Haley called on global coalition “to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing,” – a call that gained support from US allies Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel who see Iran as a major threat in the region, but which according to some analysts is nothing but Saudi struggle to firstly, get more robust help from the West with aim to end war in Yemen, and secondly, reestablish itself as the regional and the Arab world leader under new leadership led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to the current situation, both goals seem equally elusive.
Nicholas Heras a fellow at the Centre for New American Security (CNAS) believes that the push against Iran could signal that Washington is “gearing up to support Saudi Arabia’s ‘escalate to de-escalate’ strategy, which is to apply overwhelming military force to seize key Yemeni cities from Houthi control, and to box the group into a corner”, as quoted by Emirati newspaper The National.
One more reason for the Washington’s push against Iran could be the rumor that Yemeni missile fired at Riyadh airport last month was not intercepted, as Saudis claim. Saudi Arabia uses American air-defense system, which in this case may be damaging American image, even if the error may be on the side of the Saudi military, which according to experts is well equipped but poorly trained, and lacks expertise.
Indeed, the Qiam missile displayed on Thursday, which according to Saudis was intercepted, shows no signs of damage by another missile – casting further doubt over Saudi claims.
If this is the case, it is understandable that the Saudis must be in panic about future Houthi missile attacks and had to turn to the US for support and more active involvement.
The US officials said they will continue to push the UN Security Council members on the Iranian issue, but there is little doubt that veto holding powers, US adversaries and Iranian partners China and Russia will buy into the case.
The question remains on how will the US go about pursuing Iran absent the international support.
It is unlikely that the US will enter into a direct military confrontation with Iran without a good cause, and Saudi frustration with the unwinnable Yemeni war is not a reason good enough.
Failure with the Lebanese Prime Minister’s resignation to pull Iran into war in Lebanon via Hezbollah, shows that the US has run out of ideas on how to provoke Iran into an open conflict, and Iran seems wise enough not to ruin its currently solid international standing.
Another option that the US could try is to ask Saudis to de-escalate without further escalation, but that would mean conceding defeat, and after Syria it is a move likely to meet with significant Saudi resistance.
At this juncture, most probable scenario is further Saudi escalation against Houthis, while the US will continue verbally pushing against Iran.
Meanwhile, the US would be wise to reassess Saudi goals in Yemen, while searching for a suitable Houthi leader with whom to explore avenues towards peace negotiations. On this strategy, the US is sure to get the international support, including that of China and Russia at the UN Security Council.