Yemen Crisis Could Increase Iran’s Influence

A key oil passageway could fall under Iranian sway.

By Published on April 23, 2015

If Iran-backed rebels in Yemen continue their insurgency after the Saudi-led airstrike campaign, a second key oil passageway could fall under Iranian sway.

Shiite Houthi rebels overran a military base overlooking the Bab al-Mandeb Strait in March, where 3.8 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products pass through every day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The strait links the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, allowing ships access to cross through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea, highlighting its importance.

Although Iran supports Houthi rebels, the chain of command isn’t as tightly linked as with its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, or with Shiite militias in Syria or Iraq, where militias are battling to oust the Sunni Islamic State.

Iran allegedly sent Hezbollah fighters to train Houthis, a practical move by Persian-speaking Iran. Lebanese and Yemeni fighters can communicate in Arabic and have cultural similarities. There are also claims Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers were training rebels.

The U.S. Navy sent a warship into Yemeni waters earlier this week, described by a Pentagon spokesperson as an effort “to ensure that shipping lanes remain open to ensure there is freedom of navigation through those critical waterways and to help ensure maritime security.”

Sending the USS Theodore Roosevelt to the Arabian Sea also serves as a deterrent against potential Iranian weapons deliveries to rebels in Yemen. U.S. officials could be concerned about the potential for Houthis to receive advance weaponry, such as anti-ship or anti-air cruise missiles.

For now, Yemen is too chaotic for Iran-backed forces to take control of an area and launch an attack on a U.S. ship, says McInnis. But it’s important to prevent Iran from gaining a foothold, he added.

It’s not uncommon for Iranian and U.S. naval ships to enter the area, considering their cooperation in counter-piracy operations, but the latest move appears to indicate Iran seeks to emphasize its presence.

Iran isn’t in the position to launch “maritime terrorism” in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait like in the Strait of Hormuz, says Matthew McInnis, an expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea, facilitates the passage of 17 million barrels of crude oil every day. Iran isn’t technically capable of closing the strait, but it has been demonstrating “increasing capability to control the strait,” says McInnis.

Iran uses mines, submarines, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surveillance drones- overwhelming the maritime region with volume and creating a possibility for small vessel attacks. This would disrupt traffic passing through the chokepoint, causing a spike in oil prices.

“Traffic would still be getting through, but it would only be if Iran lets you,” said McInnis.

Previous threats from Tehran led the U.S. Navy to deploy underwater drones, detecting Iranian mines in the Persian Gulf and blowing them up.


Copyright 2015 The Daily Caller News Foundation

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