Yemen: A Very Public Defeat Back In Iran

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July 11, 2018: The UN persuaded the Arab coalition to pause its offensive in late June so the UN could attempt to negotiate an end to the battle for the Red Sea port of Hodeida. But so far all the rebels will offer is to turn over control of the port to the UN (something the UN has been demanding for years) while the government demands that the rebels move away from the coast. The rebels will not consider this because it would cut them off from the weapons and equipment the Iranians smuggle in as well as opportunities to attack ships in the Red Sea. The rebels show no signs of surrendering control of Hodeida or any portions of the Red Sea coast. The Arab coalition reminded the UN that a “pause” was not a ceasefire and the fighting around Hodeida and other key rebel locations (the capital Sanaa and the Saada, the home province of the Shia rebels) are experiencing more combat with government and coalition forces.

As the battle for Hodeida continues the rebels are taking heavy losses and more of their Iranian advisors are being killed or captured, along with some of the specialized equipment that has been smuggled in. The advisors are from Hezbollah, an Iran backed Lebanese militia that dominates Lebanese politics and controls the border with Israel. The Hezbollah operatives are Arabs, which makes it easier for them to blend in than the Iranians, who are Indo-European. There are apparently some Iranian advisors in Yemen but they stay away from the front lines.

In Hodeida, the rebels are still allowing ships to dock and unload relief supplies. But they have also been seen stealing more foreign aid and moving it to rebel storage areas outside the city. In response, the Arab coalition has increased aerial surveillance of the few roads going from Hodeida to the rebel homeland in Saada province on the Saudi border. These vehicles coming out of Hodeida are being hit with airstrikes, even when they move at night. Some are getting through but many are not.

Inside the city, the rebels are preparing a defense in depth, especially in residential neighborhoods where they intend to use civilians as human shields and the homes for snipers to fire from. Many buildings are having bombs installed that will go off when someone gets close or can be detonated by remote control.

The rebels apparently prefer to see the Hodeida port facilities put out of action for months (or longer) by battle damage and see much of the city turned to rubble by fighting rather than give it up. Severe destruction of the port will force all the foreign aid to come in via the two main southern ports (Aden and Mukalla) on the Gulf of Aden. This would mean more frequent use of trucks to get the food and other essential supplies to the civilians that need it. That would expose the supplies to bandits and Islamic terrorists who would attack aid convoys (as they have been doing for years). For several weeks now aid convoys have been coming south from Saudi Arabia to feed civilians in areas recently taken from the rebels. This includes over 120,000 civilians who have fled Hodeida so far. There are still over 200,000 civilians in the city.

In late June there was an effort by the Shia rebels to send several fishing boats armed with RPGs and other weapons into the Red Sea shipping channel and make attacks. The warships and aircraft of the Red Sea naval blockade detected this and captured or destroyed several of the fishing boats while others retreated to small coastal port towns. The rebels have used anti-ship missiles as well as rockets and suicide bomb boats against shipping and there remains the fear that Iran may have supplied the rebels with naval mines.

July 10, 2018: The Shia rebels fired an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile at a residential area in the Saudi province of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted the Badr-1.

July 8, 2018: While the fighting continues where the offensive paused (because of UN efforts to arrange a peaceful surrender of Hodeida) aerial surveillance clearly showed that the rebels were digging numerous trenches and other fortifications in the city and preparing to strongly resist any effort to take the city and port.

July 7, 2018: In the northwest (Saada province) Saudi forces have been crossing the border the more frequently to reinforce those already there and increase the threat against the homeland for many Shia tribes. The Saudis have been carrying out airstrikes in Saada since 2015 and pushing rebels away from the Saudi border. The Saudi forces are also advancing a training camps run by Iranian advisors (from Lebanon). These have been hit by airstrikes but getting troops to the bombed camps allows more evidence to be collected.

July 6, 2018: Fighting broke out south of Hodeida as government forces sought to drive rebels further away from the coast.

In the south (Shabwa province) an American UAV used a missile to kill seven AQAP men who were traveling in a vehicle along a rural road.

The Shia rebels fired an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile at residential areas in the Saudi province of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted the Badr-1.

July 4, 2018: The Shia rebels released a video showing an underground ballistic missile launcher. This appears to be an erector launcher sitting in a trench so that the launcher and missile are just below ground level. But the erector-launcher can quickly move the Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile to a vertical position for firing. Badr 1 showed up in March 2018 and appears to be a GPS guided version of the Iranian Fajr rocket. This is a 910 kg (thousand pound) rocket with a range of at least 75 kilometers. Two are carried and launched from a 6x6 truck. The Badr 1 is used against targets just across the Saudi border, like the city of Jizan and all less than a hundred kilometers from likely launching sites.

July 1, 2018: The Arab coalition announced that their offensive to take Hodeida would pause to give UN negotiators time to try and convince the Shia rebels to give up Hodeida without a fight. The rebels agreed to talk but used the pause to improve their defenses in Hodeida and elsewhere.

For the first time, a Saudi armored unit has crossed the border into Saada Province. This is the homeland of the Shia rebels and low-level fighting between Saudi troops and rebel fighters has been going on in Saada since 2015.

June 26, 2018: In Iran large demonstrations in the capital (Tehran) continued into their second day, triggered by a collapse in the value of the Iranian currency. People are also protesting the poor state of the economy and most Iranians. Israeli officials issued Farsi (Iranian) language messages on social media pointing out the Iranian government had agreed to spend at least $2.5 billion in 2018 supporting foreign terrorists like the Shia rebels in Yemen, the Assads in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and Shiite militias in Iraq. This is in addition to over $14 billion Iran admits it has already spent on supporting the Assads in Syria since 2012. The Iranian protestors need little encouragements as they have been shouting “Down With The Palestinians” and criticism of the Syrian War as well. Yemen is particularly embarrassing because for all the Iranian money spent there (particularly to smuggle in Iranian ballistic missiles) Iran has nothing to show for it. Actually, the results of the Iranian effort in Yemen have been embarrassing. All those ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia have been shot down by the Saudi anti-missile defenses (American Patriot systems). Iranian propaganda plays up all the Yemeni civilians killed by Saudi and UAE airstrikes without mentioning that the Arab warplanes are using smart bombs to go after Shia rebels who were trying to use civilians as human shields. Middle Eastern armed forces generally ignore the use of human shields. What bothers the Iranian government, and the Iranian protesters is that the Arab air defense systems can regularly shoot down Iranian ballistic missiles and the Arabian pilots can effectively use smart bombs. What does that say about the prospects of Iranian forces taking on the Arab Gulf states? The Iranian government had always implied that Iranian forces, as they have for thousands of years, would roll over the Arabs. Yet Iran has few modern warplanes and hardly any smart bombs. Iranian air defenses cannot handle Arab ballistic missiles and probably would not do well against Arab warplanes either. Iran is trying to turn its support of the Yemeni Shia rebels into a propaganda victory but has ended up with a very public defeat in the eyes of the Iranian people.

June 25, 2018: The Shia rebels fired two Iranian long-range ballistic missiles at targets in central Saudi Arabia (outside the capital, Riyadh). Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted both missiles. 

June 23, 2018: In the north, on the Saudi border, three Saudi soldiers were killed during a clash with Yemeni Shia rebels.

June 20, 2018: The assault on Hodeida resulted in Arab coalition forces taking control of the airport 20 kilometers from the city. Before the attackers could advance on the city itself the fighting was halted to give the UN an opportunity to negotiate a non-destructive surrender of the city and port facilities.

June 19, 2018: The Shia rebels fired an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile at a residential area in the Saudi province of Asir, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted the Badr-1 but some of the debris that fell to earth and injured a Pakistani man.

June 17, 2018: In Yemen pro-government militia shot down an Iranian made UAV the Shia rebels were using to help defend to the Red Sea port of Hodeida. The government forces have taken the airport and are preparing to go after the vital docks area of the port. This port city is currently the only way for the rebels to accept legitimate imports. Those aid shipments contain a lot of smuggled items. The smuggling is no secret and UN officials are unable to do much to stop it because of the armed Shia personnel (mostly Yemeni, but also a growing number of Iranians and Lebanese) are there to prevent inspection. Russia will also use its veto to block any serious UN moves to investigate or punish Iran for this sort of thing. Hodeida has been the main port for the delivery of foreign aid for civilians in rebel held areas and, in theory, government controlled areas as well. The UN has been, without much success, trying to get the rebels to allow the UN to police the port and basically control the smuggling and diversion of foreign aid the rebels have been engaged in. The UN has been unable to assert control.

With the loss of Hodeida Iran would no longer be able to easily supply the Shia rebels with as many weapons and other military equipment. Despite the Iranian aid (missiles, UAVs, arms and ammo) the Shia led rebel coalition has fallen apart and the Saudi led Arab collation forces and rebuilt Yemen army is now advancing into rebels held (since 2015) territory.

June 14, 2018: The Shia rebels fired an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile at a residential area in the Saudi province of Asir, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted the Badr-1.

 

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