The Battle For Saudi Arabia Begins

ISIS 2

by Richard Fernandez

Yemen’s US backed president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled Yemen ahead of an advancing column of Houthi rebels as the Kingdom moved up major military units to its southern border. The New York Times reports:

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s foreign minister has called for an “immediate” Arab military intervention against advancing Shiite rebels.

Riad Yassin told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite news network on Wednesday that Yemen had asked Arab countries — especially oil-rich Gulf Sunni countries — to send air and naval forces to counter Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

But the collapsing regime’s defense minister did not flee quickly enough. The Washington Post says the rebels have the Yemeni official in their custody.  The Telegraph says the Saudis are “moving heavy military equipment including artillery to areas near its border with Yemen, US officials said on Tuesday, raising the risk that the Middle East’s top oil power will be drawn into the worsening Yemeni conflict.”

The buildup follows a southward advance by Iranian-backed Houthi Shia militants who took control of the capital Sanaa in September and seized the central city of Taiz at the weekend as they move closer to the new southern base of US-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The armor and artillery being moved by Saudi Arabia could be used for offensive or defensive purposes, two US government sources said. Two other US officials said the build-up appeared to be defensive.

Julie Pace and Ken Dilanian of the AP write the epitaph for what president Obama once described as his model for fighting extremists in the Arabian peninsula. “Once hailed by President Barack Obama as a model for fighting extremism, the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Yemen has all but collapsed as the country descends into chaos, according to U.S. and Yemeni officials.”

“It is the model that we’re going to have to work with, because the alternative would be massive U.S. deployments in perpetuity, which would create its own blowback and cause probably more problems than it would potentially solve,” Obama said in January as the situation in Yemen deteriorated.

Now, virtually all of the Yemeni troops that had worked with the U.S. are engaged on one side or another of a three-pronged political struggle between the remnants of the Hadi government, supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Houthi faction, U.S. officials say. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak by name about sensitive intelligence assessments.

The fall of Aden would put the “Bab al-Mandeb strait, a Red Sea shipping lane vital to oil shipments” within anti-ship missile and mining operational range of Iran. In 2013 a security expert from Brookings warned about the scenario that is now unfolding.

“If the south of Yemen were to break away and become an ally of the Iranians, it would be a major strategic gain for Tehran,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow and director of the Brookings’ Intelligence Project, part of the Brookings’ Institute. “It might more than compensate for the loss of Syria if Assad’s government falls.”…

Hirak’s power base is a geopolitically strategic territory in southern Yemen that lies alongside part of Bab al Mandab, a narrow strait traveled by many giant oil tankers bound for the U.S. and Europe. Bab al Mandab—Arabic for Gate of Grief—is so named for the treacherous journey through waters just 18 miles wide at points.

Security is a concern at Bab al Mandab, which stands, along with the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz, as one of the world’s major oil-supply choke points. Yemen’s national security forces and its coast guard have been strained since the country’s revolution took root in 2011.

Some Western officials worry that Iran could use military allies along Bab al Mandab to disrupt shipping there, as it has attempted to do along its own coast on the Strait of Hormuz. Together, the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al Mandab are conduits for 22% of the world’s oil supply, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“If the Iranians are able to control Bab al Mandab and the Strait of Hormuz, they’d be able to have a chokehold on the global economy,” a Western diplomat in San’a said.

But now it now looks like Iran is not only going to take Yemen, but keep Syria into the bargain, not to mention Iraq. The New York Times says the Iranians are patiently strangling ISIS by engaging in a town-hopping campaign along the rivers. The Iranian-led forces are showing the ability to build alliances with anti-ISIS forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga.

the militias and Kurds have cooperated at times. As the battle raged for Tikrit, pesh merga cleared more than 40 square miles of territory south and west of Kirkuk, the oil hub city that is central to Kurdish independence aspirations. That progress, which included help from Shiite militiamen, has effectively sandwiched some ISIS units between the main Kurdish and Shiite forces.

The Islamic State fighters around Kirkuk were demoralized, according to Gen. Rasoul Omar, a Kurdish commander. He said the militants lacked “spirit in their attack and even defense” and withdrew “wildly,” failing to leave behind their trademark lethal booby-traps.

In the face of successive calamities, Obama appears to be withdrawing into a shell. Josh Rogin of Bloomberg noted that the president refused to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the new head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and won’t see Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, even though he is in Washington for three days. Stoltenberg’s office requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit, but never heard anything from the White House, two sources close to the NATO chief told me.

The leaders of almost all the other 28 NATO member countries have made time for Stoltenberg since he took over the world’s largest military alliance in October. Stoltenberg, twice the prime minister of Norway, met Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa to discuss the threat of the Islamic State and the crisis in Ukraine, two issues near the top of Obama’s agenda.

Kurt Volker, who served as the U.S. permanent representative to NATO under both President George W. Bush and Obama, said the president broke a long tradition. “The Bush administration held a firm line that if the NATO secretary general came to town, he would be seen by the president … so as not to diminish his stature or authority,” he told me.

David Ignatius writes “The NATO alliance seems stuck at a crossroads on Ukraine, unsure whether to move toward greater confrontation with Russia or accept the deadlocked ‘frozen conflict’ that has emerged there.”

It’s a unified morass, at least, with President Obama sharing the reluctance of European leaders to escalate the crisis by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine or tightening sanctions against Russia. The United States tacitly backs the decision made by European leaders here last week to maintain the status quo — and link any easing of sanctions to implementation of the Minsk agreement that has brought a shaky truce in Ukraine.

Now, as the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia moves directly to the borders of the Kingdom itself,  Obama is like a deer in the headlights, incapable of any meaningful action. He’s been reduced to hoping that Tehran throws him a bone.  The man who depicted himself as a transcendent figure on history’s stage, who described his foreign policy vision at the Temple of Hercules has been out-thought, out-generaled and completely outclassed by men with far fewer resources, but a great deal more ability than himself.