US warnings against Iran raise stakes of Yemen’s long-simmering war

US warnings against Iran raise stakes of Yemen’s long-simmering war

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Courtesy: Saudi Aramco
Courtesy: Saudi Aramco

'We should keep in mind the national interest and what actually harms American interests, not the interests of our sometime-partners in the Gulf'

UNITED NATIONS – Saudi Arabia blamed Houthi rebels in Yemen for a series of drone attacks against Saudi oil facilities on Tuesday, a day after ships carrying Saudi oil were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Both incidents closely follow a U.S. warning that Iran could be planning attacks on the U.S. or its Gulf allies, and that those attacks could trigger the use of U.S. force in response.

While little is still known about Monday’s attacks off the Emirati coast, Tuesday’s reported drone attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure are a more predictable outgrowth of the ongoing war in Yemen. That war pits a Saudi-led coalition backed by the U.S. and the Emirates against Houthi rebels that have received arms and other support from Iran.

Borzou Daragahi is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and says for a while Yemen long looked like a “cheap war” unlikely to cause much effect on the Saudi or Emirati homeland, this week’s attacks – not to the mention the new red lines drawn by the U.S. – show how that’s changed.

“Those kinds of cheap wars are being less and less feasible as asymmetric technologies become more available. The sort of rules are changing because the technologies are changing, and maybe the threat calculus needs to change as well.”

Thus far, U.S. officials have not gone on the record to blame Iran for either of this week’s attacks, although anonymous U.S. officials have.

Gil Barndollar of the Center for the National Interest says that as the White House decides whether either incident this week merits a military response, the American public should consider exactly what is and is not worth going to war over.

“We should keep in mind the national interest and what actually harms American interests, not the interests of our sometime-partners in the Gulf, not the interests – the Israelis have their own interests, which sometimes diverge from ours – but a pretty strict reading of U.S. interests and what we’re actually willing to spend American treasure and, more importantly, American blood on.”

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