The US naval presence serves to help enforce a UN arms embargo that was passed last week, technically barring Iran from continuing to make suspected shipments of military equipment to the Shiite Houthi militia that it supports there. Such shipments not only violate the new Security Council resolution but also were already illegal on the basis of old resolutions restricting transfers of Iranian arms in general.
But CNN quoted Senator John McCain as saying that this confrontation of Iranian influence in Yemen was only made necessary by the Obama administration’s “failure throughout the Middle East.” What’s more, Breitbart suggests that to the extent that the administration has responded to the current crisis, it has only done so as a result of being forced by its need to appease traditional allies who are anxious about recent US outreach to Iran.
Indeed, Politico describes American support of Arab actions in Yemen as being quite tepid, and it quotes former Obama administration official and Middle East expert Ilan Goldenberg as saying that current American policy is bad from the standpoint of addressing the Yemeni crisis but good from the standpoint of preserving Saudi-US relations.
In this sense, the presence of American warships and the other logistical support given to the Arab coalition that has been bombing Houthi targets in recent weeks are extensions of the same policies that led President Obama to invite members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to a summit where he will attempt to sell them on his approach to Iran.
Breitbart indicates that America’s Arab allies are less than receptive to these efforts, as evidenced by the fact that Oman has already declined to attend the summit, while regional leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both announced that they would send only junior delegates – a move that implies they do not plan to take Obama’s proposals on Iran very seriously.
One might argue that this response is justified by the fact that direct Arab confrontation of Iranian activities in Yemen may have generated greater results that the Obama administration’s soft approach. Early on Tuesday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian announced that he expected a ceasefire in Yemen that day, according to remarks carried by Dawn. While the thought process behind this is not publicly known, it may be that Iran began to pursue a diplomatic solution in response to the loss of ground by its Houthi proxy, as well as new barriers to Iran’s resupply of that proxy.
Whatever the case, Reuters reported on Tuesday evening that the Saudi-led bombing campaign had officially stopped. However, Arab nations continued to maintain a blockade of the Gulf of Aden and also made it clear that they would conduct further military operations if they spotted offensive moves by the Houthis.
Meanwhile, Iran has not backed down either, and NBC News reports that an Iranian flotilla suspected of carrying arms for the Houthis remains parked in the Arabian Sea outside of the aforementioned blockade. Both the dissolution and the exacerbation of this conflict seem possible at this point, but there is little reason to expect Iran to readily back down, given the belligerence and military pride of many of its officials.
These attitudes were on full display only on Saturday when Iran celebrated National Army Day with an annual unveiling of new military equipment – detailed by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – and a series of defiant statements against the West. CNN indicates that the tone of Iranian commentary was somewhat inconsistent, reflecting varying levels of awareness of the ongoing nuclear negotiations, but also that individuals like Major General Hassan Firouzabadi had used the occasion to repeat familiar conspiracy theories about Western powers creating the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and only pretending to fight it.
According to Politico, US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently acknowledged the possibility that the nuclear negotiations could actually have an adverse effect on Iran’s role in the region, saying it was easy to imagine in a situation in which “the hard-line elements in Iran, to demonstrate that they are still very much in control or still relevant, actually take even more aggressive action.”