The news of Benomar’s departure arguably points to the potential for a change in international strategies in dealing with the ongoing crisis. The UN press release on this topic does not give a reason for the end of Benomar’s tenure, leaving open the possibility that it was related to a recognized need for a different set of skills in the new political situation, or that it was an entirely autonomous decision by Benomar, unrelated to any newly established institutional policies.
A replacement has yet to be named and once it is, perhaps experts and analysts will be better able to draw conclusions about the direction that international activity will take in Yemen. As it stands, the UN Security Council passed a resolution this week to impose an arms embargo on Yemen, in what has been viewed by some as the first major act in opposition to Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula. Earlier, United States Secretary of State John Kerry declared that it is obvious to all objective observers that multiple weekly flights from Iran to Yemen have been carrying equipment and weapons to the fighting force there.
For its part, the US has been providing logistical and operational support to the Saudi-led coalition responsible for the bombing campaign known as Operation Decisive Storm, despite the fact that American bombers have actually been providing direct support to other Iran-backed forces in Iraq, where Shiite militants and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are leading efforts to re-take key areas of the country from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Operation Decisive Storm has been described by some opponents of the Iranian regime as a turning point for international action on Iranian influence throughout the Middle East. Among these opponents is former US Army Chief of Staff General Hugh Shelton, who described Iran’s influence in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria as having “inflamed sectarian conflicts while deeply destabilizing the region,” according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
“It is time for the international community to stand behind the regional coalition against the regime’s agents in Yemen,” Shelton wrote. “But, it should not stop there. Tehran’s influence should be severely restrained in other regional hotspots,” as in Syria, where Shelton believes that vigorous opposition to Iranian influence at the start could have “saved hundreds of thousands of lives” by preventing Tehran from propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
It is interesting to note that in parallel with these calls for an active counterbalance to Iranian power in Yemen, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has recently been decrying other nation’s intervention in the crisis, saying that what is needed is facilitated “dialogue among various Yemeni groups,” according to EuroNews.
Iran has never acknowledged its backing of the Houthi rebels or its deliveries of military equipment to them. But there has been little dispute about this Iranian role within the international community. Because of this, it is reasonable to assume that when Iranian officials call for a domestic solution to the crisis, they are urging other foreign powers to withdraw while preserving their own intentions to provide clandestine support and guidance to one side in the domestic conflict.
International calls for a counterbalance to this influence are seemingly amplified by the perceived danger of a financially enriched Iran. Negotiations between Iran and six world powers over the Iranian nuclear program and economic sanctions are set to wrap up by June 30, the twice-extended deadline for a final accord on the issues. If the talks are successful, Iran stands to see the removal of all sanctions directed against its nuclear program. Many of those who are skeptical about this deal have emphasized that Iran is likely to channel some of the resulting wealth into its other illicit activities, including regional intrusions and support for terrorism.
In fact, the mere expectation that Iran might face such sanctions relief has been enough to encourage some foreign entities to begin pursuing investments inside the Islamic Republic, in order to get in on the ground floor of what may be an emerging market.
With some exceptions among entities that have shown willingness to help Iran to circumvent international sanctions, those sanctions have been successful at diminishing countries’ business dealings with Iran. Reuters pointed out on Thursday that Indian imports of oil from Iran have decreased from 370,000 barrels per day in the period between 2010 and 2011 to 220,000 barrels per day in 2013-2014.
But the same article reports that these figures are set to increase again and that an Indian delegation was scheduled to visit Tehran this week to explore possibilities for such trade expansion. The efforts are presented as a direct response to the prospect of an international nuclear agreement. In this sense, the anticipated growth of Iranian financial influence is a source of anxiety for opponents of the Iranian regime, as it may have a knock-on effect with Iran’s political and military influence in the immediate region and beyond.