The battle of Marib could be approaching a key point, affects Saudi Arabia and Iran

Iran and Saudi Arabia are watching closely as a key battle in Yemen’s Marib reaches another potential tipping point. More than two dozen people were killed this week by a Houthi rebel missile attack that hit a mosque and a school. The Houthi rebels are backed by Iran. Iran has helped them provide support in missile and drone technology.
Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen to prevent the Houthis from taking over key cities like Aden. Since then, Riyadh has been bogged down in Yemen supporting besieged government forces. The UAE, which once played a role alongside Riyadh, now appears to have taken a different path in Yemen. What this means is that Riyadh could risk seeing its Yemeni allies lose a key battle on their doorstep at Marib in Yemen.
Marib is several hundred kilometers from the border with Saudi Arabia, but if the rebels take the city it will be a symbolic defeat. We know it is important to Iran because Iran’s Tasnim media is highlighting the battle. The Houthis call this offensive the “spring of victory” and a long article explains its tactics were published on Monday. The Houthi rebel spokesman “said that Yemeni army forces, with the help of tribal forces, have carried out successful operations in Ma’rib, Shabwa and al-Bayda provinces,” Tasnim says. The Houthi spokesman “announced the liberation of an area of ​​1,100 square kilometers in the second phase of the Victory Spring liberation operation.”

The Houthis say they face tough battles. They claim they were hit by 159 airstrikes by the Saudi Arabian air force. In turn, they have carried out 86 operations against the “invading aircraft.” The Houthis claim their missile unit has also carried out 47 operations, 31 of which were within the occupied territories of Yemen and 16 within the depths of Saudi Arabia. They openly boast of attacking Saudi Arabia with a total of 141 operations involving Houthi drones. The Houthis acquired drones with Iranian technology. Some reports say that Iran has even based drones in Yemen that can reach Israel and attack oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. In July, a drone attacked a tanker truck, killing two people. Israel and the United States blamed Iran for the attack.

A man chanted slogans as he and supporters of the Houthi movement attend a rally to celebrate the group’s claims of military advances near the borders with Saudi Arabia, in Sanaa, Yemen, on October 4, 2019 MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI / REUTERS

The Houthis increasingly portray themselves as part of the Iranian alliance system in the region with Hezbollah and the Iraqi militias. The Houthis have always been openly anti-Semitic, their motto calls for “cursing the Jews.” The motto is “God is the greatest, death for America, death for Israel, curse on the Jews, victory for Islam.” In Tasnim’s recent report, the Houthis claimed they were fighting “aggressors, occupiers and mercenaries in Washington and Tel Aviv.” Clearly, they believe that their battle against Saudi Arabia is part of their general war against Israel and the United States. Marib is simply a stepping stone.

The Houthi spokesman said his forces “were successful in liberating most areas of Ma’rib province and will continue their jihadist duties towards their people and their country,” says Tasnim of Iran. Some 200 people were killed in the recent fighting. Now the Houthis are warning Marib’s defenders to stop fighting. “The Yemen war is a complete defeat for the aggressors,” the report says. The Houthis say the war in Saudi Arabia is “criminal and barbaric.” Now they are driving to complete the siege of Marib and attempt to strangle the city.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf have expelled envoys from Lebanon and criticized the Lebanese Information Minister who appeared to back the Houthis. The UAE has urged its citizens to leave Lebanon and he has said that his diplomats left the country. Riyadh wants Hezbollah to stop its slow takeover of Lebanon. Riyadh wants Hezbollah’s presence to be reduced. Iran appears to want to pressure Saudi Arabia in Marib perhaps as part of a much larger ploy to attack Saudi Arabia from Yemen as Riyadh tries to pressure Hezbollah in Lebanon. That means Riyadh faces a regional Iranian threat agenda that stretches thousands of kilometers from Yemen through the Gulf of Oman to Kuwait and through Iraq and Albukamal and then through Syria to Lebanon. Israel also views this arc of threats as a serious concern.

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