Doubts turning up in Middle East

Wednesday, 2017-02-08 11:46:50
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Houthi militants patrol the vicinity of a venue in Sana’a on October 14, 2014. (Credit: Reuters)
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NDO – The waters off Yemen’s coast are witnessing developments that threaten to increase tensions in the region. A US destroyer has recently arrived in the waters to protect Yemen under the threat of attacks from insurgent Houthi rebels against government troops. Meanwhile, tensions in US-Iran relations are also unearthing latent doubts in axis of relation, heating up the atmosphere in the region affecting interests among concerned parties.

Tension in Yemen seems to show signs of "warming" as government troops have stepped up offensive attacks to retake territories from Houthi rebels. Since the beginning of the new year, intense fighting has shaken areas around the strategic port of Mocha on the Red Sea as pro-government forces advanced to dislodge rebels and their allies.

As one of the oldest ports in Yemen and considered as an essential route for Houthis and their allies that currently control the capital city of Sana'a and most of the nation’s northern region, capturing Mocha would be an important victory for the Saudi Arabia-backed government troops.

However, Houthi forces have also fired back. The group attacked a Saudi warship west off Yemen’s coast, causing an explosion that killed two sailors. Houthis even announced that for the first time they have successfully launched a ballistic missile aimed at Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, targeting the military base al-Mazahimiyah in the west of the city, about 1,000 km off Yemen’s Sana'a.

To relieve tension in Yemen, the US has deployed its USS Cole destroyer near the Bab al-Mandab Strait in the southwest of Yemen to carry out patrol missions and escort ships through the area.

The move of the US move is considered as “a stone that kills two birds”, helping both strengthen security in the region for its allies ahead of potential threats, while deterring Iran that allegedly sponsors Houthis amidst the strained US-Iran ties after Iran tested its missile on January 29 and the US imposed additional penalties against Tehran. Iran confirmed that the commencement of the US’s sanctions against Tehran is a violation of the nuclear agreement that Iran signed with major powers, including the US.

The long-term confrontation between the US and Iran has caused doubts and could easily increase tension in the region. Iran is prepared to deal with US President Donald Trump’s policies which are likely to reverse the trend of normalisation of relations between the two achieved by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. Although Trump has vowed to abolish the nuclear deal with Iran, tensions have increased as last week Iran conducted a test launch of ballistic missiles.

Iran is seeking to strengthen its power and influence in the Persian Gulf. The waterway in the area plays an important role, which is considered the "lifeline" and crucial security for Tehran. Therefore, every move in the region is extremely sensitive and could easily spark active confrontation.

One of Iran’s major concerns is the presence of US troops in the region. In recent days, Iran conducted a large-scale military exercise aimed at showing off its strength and standing ready to deal with any threat.

Although the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied the accusations that Iran armed rebel forces in Yemen, while affirming that its purpose for recent missile test is not to send a message of defiance to US President Trump, the "tit for tat" between Tehran and Washington has negatively affected the regional situation.

As the key factors in resolving regional issues such as the conflict in Yemen and the nuclear issue in Iran, any move from the US or Iran will affect the general atmosphere. The Gulf cannot be calm if the US, Iran and related parties do not act to curb the escalation of tensions.