What have the Houthis wrought?

The weekend attack on the Saudi oil refinery may well be looked back at as a true hinge moment in history, for it represents the first time a world power, Iran, through its agents in Yemen*, struck another world power with large numbers of drones in a coordinated fashion.  Sure, drones have been used for the last twenty years or so to deploy weapons of war, but those deployments have usually been by singular drones against singular, specific targets.

Think of the strike as the 21st-century Guernica:

The German bombers appeared in the skies over Guernica in the late afternoon...and immediately transformed the sleepy Spanish market town into an everlasting symbol of the atrocity of war. Unbeknownst to the residents of Guernica, they had been slated by their attackers to become guinea pigs in an experiment designed to determine just what it would take to bomb a city into oblivion.

Theretofore, bombs, with some exceptions, had been dropped from airplanes targeting singular enemy positions or objects, but in Guernica, the bombs were meant to destroy a city, demoralize a population, and hinder the enemy's war efforts at large.

I think it highly likely that Hezb'allah, from Lebanon, and Hamas, from Gaza, will strike Israel with multiple or even swarms of low-flying drones in coordinated ways.  Iran could increase its attack on Gulf shipping.  India and Pakistan could fight their own "Battle of Coral Sea" over Kashmir with neither side ever seeing or firing on the other.  And the implications in the China-Taiwan and North vs. South Korea conflicts are staggering to contemplate.

More worrisome, to me, in the short run is what is happening in Yemen, particularly, and on the Arabian Peninsula in general.

Saudi Arabia is weak.  It has proven that it is too militarily weak to effectively fight, let alone defeat, the Houthis, even with the aid of the Emirates.  It has no chance against the Houthis now that the Emirates have lost interest in the fight.

YouTube screen grab.

And Saudi Arabia is weak or "wet" in the British sense — it is effete:

[W]hen rich Americans ... encounter Saudis, they are usually rich Saudis, Western in appearance and affectation. This creates a misleading impression of what the country is actually like. The operative word for the Saudi royal family is effete. All their sword-dancing and infidel-beheading can't change the fact that their economy is based purely on a rapidly diminishing natural resource. Their society is decaying from within. ... By oppressing rather than cultivating the talents of most of its citizens, Saudi Arabia has squandered a unique opportunity to position itself for the future.

Furthermore, the Houthis are continuing to gain strength in the whole of Yemen, but particularly in the area of the ruins of the once prosperous and powerful city of Mocha on the Red Sea.  From there the Houthis can control the vital Bab el-Mandeb Strait.  In a compelling discussion, Jonathan Spyer explains the threat cogently.  And this explanation was taped before the refinery attack, so we must presume that the threat may now be even exponentially greater.

Elana DeLozier, a special scholar on the area, gives a thorough, but brief, account of the entire situation in Yemen.  Those readers interested in understanding what is now happening in all of Arabia would profit by spending a few minutes listening to both Mr. Spyer and Ms. DeLozier, perhaps whilst preparing the morning's coffee.

So we now have the Houthis emboldened and strengthened by the strike, but we also have an aggressive Iran denying involvement and raising tensions in the region:

[The] ... attack ... cut into global energy supplies and...fuel[ed] regional tensions, as Iran denied U.S. allegations ...[as] ... "maximum lies,"[and] ... reiterated its forces could strike U.S. military bases across the Mideast....Actions on any side could break into the open a twilight war that's been raging just below the surface of the wider Persian Gulf over the last months.[break]  Iran..kept up with its own threats. ... "Wherever they are, it only takes one spark and we hit their vessels, their air bases, their troops" ... [and] Sen. Lindsey Graham ... suggested retaliatory strikes targeting Iran.

Worse yet, as a result of current conditions in the area, exacerbated by the refinery strike, the impulse in Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, to acquire nuclear weapons will surely intensify.  That is, it will intensify if Saudi Arabia doesn't already have nuclear weapons at hand.  By that I mean that if you think Saudi Arabia hasn't negotiated such a deal with Pakistan in exchange for its funding of Pakistan's program, then I have a date palm oasis to sell you!

In any case, if the Saudis openly pursue a bomb, Erdoğan's Turkey, Sisi's Egypt, and even Abdullah's Jordan will likely follow or at least want to follow.

And that strike has brought us closer than ever to nuclear conflict.

*CNN thinks the drones were launched from Iraq, but the Houthis claim credit themselves.

The author is retired, his profile may be found on LinkedIn, and he usually responds to emails sent to bilschan@hotmail.com.

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