The assault on Al Hodeidah was a long time coming. The Emirati-led attack, which began at midnight Wednesday after the Iran-backed Houthis ignored a deadline from the United Arab Emirates to withdraw from the city and its adjoining port, have so far been restricted to a Houthi stronghold south of the city. The airstrikes came despite warnings from aid groups of a humanitarian disaster, and after the U.S. declined to explicitly oppose the operation.

Hodeidah, a port city of some 600,000 perched on the Red Sea, is the entrepot for most of the foreign humanitarian aid that enters Yemen. The Houthis have controlled Hodeidah for about two years; with that authority comes access to the revenue from the customs duty that is earned at the port along with, say Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Iranian weapons.

The fight for Hodeidah highlights not only intra-Yemen rivalries, but the thorny regional dynamics involving the Saudis and Emiratis on one side and Iran on the other. It also showcases the tension between the U.S. desire to minimize civilian casualties and its goal of limiting what it views as Iran’s malign regional influence.

The extent of Iran’s actual influence in Yemen, however, is unclear. Gerald Feierstein, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2010-2013, said while Tehran has tried to use the situation in Yemen to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, its control over the Houthis is limited. “Does Iran have some influence on the Houthis? Probably. Does it provide training and assistance to the Houthi forces? Absolutely,” Feierstein, who is now the director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute, told me. “Does it have relations with the senior Houthi leadership? Of course. But the Houthis don’t necessarily respond” to Iran.

Although it is easy to describe the fight in …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Global

      

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