JERUSALEM, Thursday, 13 October 2016 | In spite of bombs and warring words, the open powder keg in Syria has not yet exploded into a regional or world war. But the threat that it might do so has not diminished; if anything, it has increased. Unfortunately, an almost equal threat is developing to Israel's southeast. Recently armed with missiles from Iran, Yemen's Houthis rebels are making a move to close a shipping artery from the East to the West, choking traffic to and from the Suez Canal. The endeavor is under the direct control of Iran. Under its command, Yemen's Houthis rebels have fired four times at US vessels in the last four days. Today, Thursday 13 October, the US fired back.
Two days ago, on the eve of Yom Kippur, Israel's Day of Repentance, news outlets here noted that Yemeni Houthi rebels had recently taken delivery of its largest-ever shipment of arms from Iran.
According to the Israeli intelligence news service, DEBKAfile, "the shipment included highly sophisticated Scud D surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 800km; and C-802 anti-ship missiles." Iran has given them name, Saccade. The name refers to the ability of human eyes to quickly dart from one direction to another and almost instantly re-focus.
The Saccades were accompanied by Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers and sophisticated radar systems. They were delivered to the Yemen Houthis’ Ansar Allah faction, which is under direct Iranian Rev Guards command.
It is where they were posted that has provoked the greatest concern. In fact, they were delivered to special launch bases that have been constructed by Iran outside Yemen’s two principal Red Sea ports of Mokha and Hudaydah.
A glimpse at the map reveals the threat to global commerce. All shipments to and from the Arabian Sea must go through a narrow gap between Yemen and the continent of Africa. That gap, at the eastbound opening to the Red Sea, is only 62 kilometers (38.5 miles) wide. It is even narrower from tiny Perim Island at the same opening. The distance from Perim to the African coast is a mere 20 kilometer (12.4 miles).
Reports indicate that Tehran Yemeni proxies have taken control of Perim Island.
If Iran, via Yemen's Houthis, imposes a blockade, it would halt one-third of oil exports from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates.
DEBKA notes it would also halt Israel's commercial and military shipping to and from its port in Eilat. Eilat, a favorite vacation destination for Israelis, lies at the tip of the country's southern point. Poised on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, it is also Israel's naval doorway to the East, facilitating trade and possibly serving asa secret port for at least one of its nuclear submarines.
After suffering a salvo of four anti-ship missiles fires by Yemenis at a US flotilla, early today the US fired back. DEBKAfile reports that the US Navy Destroyer, USS Nitze, fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at three Iranian-Yemini coastal radar stations. All three stations were destroyed. More than just retaliation, the strike crippled Iran's immediate ability to impose a blockade on the narrow shipping lane.
Meanwhile, Israeli media noted this morning that Russia has renewed its bombing campaigns in Syria in spite of threats by European leaders to file charges of war crimes against Moscow. It is also proceeding in the face of severe criticism by the United States which has also called for a war-crimes investigation against Russia. While words fly, Western armaments are also on the move toward Syria; and, incidentally, very close to Israel.
For its part, to the north and south and within, in Gaza, Israel's biggest concern is Iran. In spite of its alliance with Russia across its northern border, Jerusalem is resolute. Echoing what many others have said, Yoav Gallant, a former head of 13 naval commandos, said Tuesday, "We won't allow Iran to control Syria."
It is virtually certain, Israel will no more allow Iran to control Gaza or the narrow international shipping lanes off the southern coast of Yemin.