The most important and decisive battle in Yemen’s three year civil war is taking place right now. Dubbed “Golden Victory” by the Saudi-led coalition, the operation is seeking to remove the Iranian-backed Houthi fighters from the port city of Hodeidah on Yemen’s coast.
What is the significance of this operation, and what wider implications could it have Red Sea area?
The Battle for Hodeidah is seen as a potential turning point in Yemen’s war.
It is the only major port controlled by the Houthis, and has long been a conduit for illicit arms transfers from the Iranians. It also provides the Houthis with as much as 40 million dollars a month worth of revenue in order to perpetuate its fight against the western and Arab-backed government.
However, it also is the conduit for as much as three quarters of the humanitarian aid that millions of Yemenis rely on. Earlier this month, the UN said that if the aid gateway is disrupted by the fighting up to 250,000 people could die of famine as result.
Nevertheless, the Saudi-led coalition has ploughed ahead with its plan, as it sees the ousting of the Houthis from Hodeidah as absolutely essential to defeating the Houthis.
Already, 350 people have been killed in the operation, nearly two hundred of those coming in Wednesday’s battle for the main airport, in which the Houthis had to relinquish control.
Troops loyal to the former Yemeni government and backed by Saudi and Emerati air power are now moving in on the critically important port
The operation is destined to be a slow slug as the entire area has been booby-trapped with land mines by the Houthis, with the Houthi leader saying they will continue fighting regardless of their losses.
Nevertheless, as it looks like the Iranian backed Houthis will eventually lose control of the port, its important to keep in mind two things.
Firstly, Iran will not give up so easy on its southern Red Sea Strategy.
As we have forecast, Iran is committed to staying a powerful player in the southern Red Sea. Its support for the Houthis in Western Yemen, is not just to be a thorn in the side of the Saudis as many analysts believe, rather it’s become the gatekeeper of the southern entry point to the Red Sea – the Bab el-Mandeb
Measuring just 18 miles across, this channel is the closest point between the two landmasses of central Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The northeastern edge of the strait is in Yemeni territory. Over 300,000 tons of shipping, including 3.8 million barrels of oil, pass between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean every day.
Iran wants to be able to control this strategic gateway, be it through the Houthis in Yemen, or by dominating nations on the other side of the straight.
That brings me to the second thing to keep in mind.
And that is to watch for Iran to become more heavily involved in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Though it is still early days in operation “Golden Victory” it does look plausible and maybe even likely Houthis will lose control of the port. If this happens, Iran may see the need to garuntee its position in the southern Red Sea by increasing its influence in the coastline on the other side of the Bab el-Mandeb – Eritrea, and by extension, Ethiopia.
Iran has had a history of cordial relations with Eritrea, using the nation to smuggle weapons and even some troops into Somalia. Yemen’s exiled government claims that Eritrea actually aids in Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels.
It could be that Iran will make increase its commitment to Eritrea in order to hedge its bets in the region.
Nevertheless, regardless of how the battle for Hodeidah plays out, Iran will be the dominant player in the southern player in the Red Sea. It is a great strategic interest for them, and one that the Bible indicates they are not going to part with.
If you would like to read more about what informs our analysis of Iran’s movements in the Southern Red Sea, be sure to read the article “Iran Gets a Stranglehold on the Middle East.”
Written by our editor in chief at the time that the civil war began, the article shows how Iran’s strategy in the Red Sea, will actually be used to motivate a collective European response against Iran, and will be part of a multination strategy to curtail Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East and north Africa.