Iran Seeks to Stir Regional Conflict with Saudis in Yemen and Lebanon

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on November 9th advised its citizens to not travel to Lebanon  as well as asked those already in Lebanon to leave the country as soon as possible following escalating tension as Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on November 4th, in a speech delivered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Bahrain ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately following the Hariri speech on November 5th.

Hariri said in the speech that his sudden resignation was the result of feeling threatened for his life. In his statement Hariri commented that “Hezbollah should be disarmed and wherever Iran interfered in the Middle East, there was chaos.”

On November 10th Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that Saudi Arabia declared war on Lebanon and Hezbollah, and accused Riyadh of detaining and forcing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign. In his statement he also said that “officials have declared war on Lebanon and Hezbollah.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned other counties and groups against using Lebanon as a vehicle for a larger proxy war. Tillerson also stated that Washington strongly backed Lebanon’s independence and respected PM Hariri as a partner of the U.S. Tillerson also stated that there was no indication that Hariri was being held captive in Saudi Arabia against his will.

On the same day as Hariri’s speech on November 4th, Saudi Arabia accused Iranian-backed Houthi rebels across the border in Yemen of firing a ballistic missile at the airport in Riyadh.. The ballistic missile was intercepted by the Saudi missile defenses before it could cause any damage or casualties.  Saudi Arabia accused Iran of “direct military aggression” and called the missile attack an “act of war.”

Following the missile launch Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on Yemen, ordering all Yemeni ports to close and grounded all humanitarian flights from receiving aid.

The Iranian government has been supplying missiles to the Houthis, during the civil war, which has served as proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran has sent advisers to train Houthi units and provide logistical support as part of an effort to increase influence. The Iranian Revolution Guard Corps is also believed to have transferred rocket and missile capabilities to the Houthis. The war has resulted in over 10,000 deaths to civilians, triggered a cholera outbreak affecting nearly a million people as well as allowed for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to flourish in the area. Additionally, the Islamic State has also resurged in central  Yemen where Sunni tribal and AQAP are fighting the Iranian backed Houthis.

Hezbollah has also backed the Houthi rebels through the proxy war through military training and growing support, by making the group dependent on Iran.  Additionally, the leader of the Houthis, Abdul Malik Badreddine al Houthi vowed  to fight in any future conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, supporting the terrorists.

As Saudi Arabia undergoes a major internal shake up triggered as part of a major corruption probe, Iran seeks to stir up regional conflicts. Through its proxies, the Iranians have weaved it way through the crippled governments of both Yemen and Lebanon. Growing influence from Hezbollah is also something that cannot be ignored. The Saudis need to pay close attention to Iran, and find ways to check Iranian expansion, while avoiding direct conflict.