Skip to main content

Proxies in the Gulf and Beyond: Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Principalities, and Yemen

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Iran, Revolution, and Proxy Wars

Part of the book series: Middle East Today ((MIET))

  • 1065 Accesses

Abstract

Given Khomeini’s visceral disdain for the royal family, destabilizing Saudi Arabia was a high priority for the Revolution Guards. Shiite grievances in the oil-rich Eastern Province offered a perfect platform, only to be nixed when the leading opposition group signed an agreement with Riyadh. Iran’s influence was limited to the marginal but violent Hezbollah of Hijaz. Iran did not fare in undermining the Gulf principalities, notably the majority Shiite-Bahrain where several terror cells attacked the government of the Sunni Khalifa dynasty. Surprisingly, the IRGC did much better in cultivating the Houthis, a clan within one of Shiite Zaidi tribes in Northern Yemen. After the Houthis seized control from the legitimate government in 2012 and occupied the strategic port of Hodeida, the IRGC hoped to include Bab al-Mandab into part of its Anti-Access, Area-Denial (A2/AD) zone. Equipped with Iranian missiles, the Houthis have repeatedly attacked ports and oil installations in Saudi Arabia. While the Houthis suffered setbacks from the Saudi-led coalition, their threats to the Eastern Province and the Bab al-Mandab Straits has not diminished.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 79.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 99.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 99.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Notes

  1. 1.

    Toby Matthiesen, The Sectarian Gulf. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring that Wasn’t, Stanford University Press, 2013, loc. 20; Toby Matthiesen, The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 21.

  2. 2.

    Matthiesen, The Other Saudis, 116–117.

  3. 3.

    FNA, Seizing of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by a Group of 100 persons, Fars News Agency, October 24, 2012, https://www.farsnews.com/news/13910830000151/تصرف-کعبه-توسط-یک-گروه-صد-نفره; The Islamic Revolution of Iran and the Reaction of the Shi’ites of Saudi Arabia and Al Saud to it, https://hawzah.net/fa/Magazine/View/5658/6887/82911/انقلاب-اسلامی-ایران-و-واکنش-شیعیان-عربستان-و-آل-سعود-به-آن-; Reflection of the Islamic Revolution of Iran on Saudi Arabia, Navide Shahed, navideshahed.com/fa/news/204950/بازتاب-انقلاب-اسلامي-ايران-بر-عربستان-سعودي.

  4. 4.

    Toby Matthiesen, Hizbullah al-Hijaz: A History of The Most Radical Saudi Shi’a Opposition Group, Middle East Journal, vol. 64, no. 2 (Spring 2010), pp. 179–197.

  5. 5.

    Matthiesen, The Other Saudis, pp. 104–105; The Islamic Revolution of Iran and the Reaction of the Shi’ites of Saudi Arabia and Al Saud to it, https://hawzah.net/fa/Magazine/View/5658/6887/82911/انقلاب-اسلامی-ایران-و-واکنش-شیعیان-عربستان-و-آل-سعود-به-آن-; Reflection of the Islamic Revolution of Iran on Saudi Arabia, Navide Shahed, navideshahed.com/fa/news/204950/بازتاب-انقلاب-اسلامي-ايران-بر-عربستان-سعودي.

  6. 6.

    Ofira Seliktar, Failing the Crystal Ball Test: The Carter Administration and the Fundamentalist Revolution in Iran, Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000; Matthiesen, The Other Saudis, pp. 104–106; Ray Takeyh and Steven Simon, The Pragmatic Supper Power. Winning the Cold War in the Middle East, p. 73; Hossein Haghighi, Witness to the Triple Falls (Shahede Soghoothaye Seganeh), Ketab Corp, 2012.

  7. 7.

    Martin Kramer, Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival, pp. 161–183.

  8. 8.

    Steven K. O’Hern, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Potomac Books, 2012, p. 71.

  9. 9.

    Martin Kramer, Arab Awakening and Shiite Revival, pp. 169–173. Saudi Arabia cuts diplomatic ties with Iran, Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/saudi-arabia-severs-diplomatic-relations-iran-160103202137679.html.

  10. 10.

    UN, Tehran Declaration the Eighth Islamic Summit Conference the Session of Dignity, Dialogue, Participation Sha’aban, 1418-December 1997, General Assembly Security Council, A/53/72 S/1998/156 27 February 1998.

  11. 11.

    Matthiesen, “Hezbollah al Hijaz.”

  12. 12.

    Hassan Tariq Alhassan, “The Role of Iran in the Failed Coup of 1981: The IFLB in Bahrain,” Middle East Journal, vol. 65, no. 4, 2011, pp. 603–617.

  13. 13.

    Ali Alfone, “Between Reform and Revolution: Sheik Qassim, the Bahraini Shia, and Iran.” AEI Reader, July 12, 2012.

  14. 14.

    “Iran and Iraq: The Next Five Years,” The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1987, p. 20.

  15. 15.

    Toby Matthiesen, “A Saudi Spring? The Shiite Protest in the Eastern Province, 2011–2011,” Middle East Journal, 66, No. 4 Autumn, 2012, pp. 628–659; QO, The New Wave of Detention of Political Activists and Clerics in Saudi Arabia to Suppress Critics Voices, Quds Online, qudsonline.ir/news/615674/موج-جدید-بازداشت-فعالان-سیاسی-و-روحانیون-در-عربستان-برای-سرکوب

    Al-Alam, Wahabism is Seaking to Destroy Islam’s History, Al-Alam TV Network, https://fa.alalamtv.net/news/283004/وهابيت-بدنبال-از-بین-بردن-تاريخ-اسلام; FNA, Establishing a Political Association in Saudi Arabia for Violating the People’s Right, Fars News Agency, https://www.farsnews.com/news/13900621001064/تاسیس-جمعیتی-سیاسی-در-عربستان-برای-اخذ-حقوق-مردم; ABNA, The Latest Developments in the Arab Uprising: The Fear of the Revolution has Caused Al Saud to Buy weapons, Abna News Agency, fa.abna24.com/special-issue/archive/2013/02/09/389222/story.html.

  16. 16.

    Biography of Martyr Baqir Al-Nemar, ISNA, https://www.isna.ir/news/94101206237/زندگینامه-شهید-باقر-النمر; The Al Saud Assassinated Ayatollah Sheikh Al-Nemar, Tasnim News Agency, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1394/10/12/959353/آل-سعود-آیت-الله-شیخ-النمر-را-به-شهادت-رساند-زندگی-نامه.

  17. 17.

    The execution of Sheikh Nimr will cost Saudi Arabia a lot, Tasnim News Agency, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1394/08/03/897884/امیرعبداللهیان-اعدام-شیخ-نمر-هزینه-سنگینی-را-متوجه-عربستان-خواهد-کرد.

  18. 18.

    Matthiesen, “A Saudi Spring?” pp. 628–659; Saudi Arabia cut all ties with Iran, Tabnak, January 3, 2016, https://www.tabnak.ir/fa/news/558403/عربستان-تمامی-روابط-با-ایران-را-به-طور-کامل-قطع-کرد-ویدیو; Saham News, Rouhani: A Number of Ignorant and Emotional People Inside Iran Gave Excuse to Saudi Arabia to Get Away From Iran’s Pressures, Saham News, sahamnews.org/2016/09/302344/; Saham News, Assaulting Saudi Embassy had no Result Except Discrediting Government, Saham News, sahamnews.org/2016/03/297408/.

  19. 19.

    Fadavi: The IRGC is able to Sink US Navy, Mashregh News, https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/381098/فدوی-سپاه-می-تواند-ناو-هواپیمابر-آمریکا-را-غرق-کند; Sardar Hajizadeh: Sinking US Warship Navy is Easy, Aftab News, aftabnews.ir/vdccm1qss2bqp48.ala2.html; General Fadavi, Kicking US from the Persian Gulf is the IRGC Plan, https://hawzah.net/fa/News/View/98261/سردار-فدوی-خروج-آمریکا-از-خلیج-فارس-جزو-برنامه-های-سپاه-است.

  20. 20.

    The bodies of three Bahraini martyrs are buried in Qom, hawzahnews.com/detail/News/441520; The Story of the Bahraini Martyrs who were Buried in Qom? Tabnak, www.tabnakqom.ir/fa/news/570610/ماجرای-شهدای-بحرینی-تشییع-شده-در-قم-چه-بود; The Body of Three Bahraini martyrs of the Islamic Resistance Front was Buried in Qom, Mehr News Agency, https://www.mehrnews.com/news/4234857/پیکر-۳-شهید-بحرینی-جبهه-مقاومت-اسلامی-در-قم-تشییع-شد; Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Have Designated the IRGC and General Suleimani on the list of terrorism, Shia News, www.shia-news.com/fa/news/172187/عربستان-و-بحرین-سپاه-و-سردار-سلیمانی-را-در-فهرست-تروریسم-قرار-دادند; The Bodies of Martyrs of the Resistance of the People of Bahrain were Buried in Qom, IRNA, www.irna.ir/qom/fa/News/82841143; Michael Knights and Matthew Levitt, “The Evolution of Shia Insurgency in Bahrain,” Sentinel, January 2018, vol. 11, no. 1, Combating Terrorism Center, West Point.

  21. 21.

    Ibrahim Zabad, Middle East Minorities. The Impact of the Arab Spring, 155; Phillip Smyth, “Saraya al Karar: Bahrain’s Sporadic Bomber,” Hizabollah Cavalcade, Jihadology, December 1, 2014; Phillip Smyth, “Liwa Abis: A New Active Militant Group in Bahrain,” Hizbollah Cavalcade, Jihadology, May 5, 2014.

  22. 22.

    We Do Not Allow Stannis to Approach our Territorial Waters, ISNA, https://www.isna.ir/news/97100301441/اجازه-نمی-دهیم-استنیس-به-آب-های-سرزمینی-ما-نزدیک-شود.

  23. 23.

    Matthiesen, The Sectarian Gulf, loc. 106.

  24. 24.

    Badreddin al Houthi, fa.wikishia.net/view/بدرالدین_الحوثی#cite_note-1; Alex Watanaki, “Iran’s Yemen Play,” Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2015; Ludovico Carlino, “Militant Leadership Monitor,” Academia, vol. 4, no. 8, August 2013, 12; Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Houthi Phenomenon, RAND, 2010, 116, 119.

  25. 25.

    Put the Farsi reference, then Alex Watanaki, “Iran’s Yemen Play,” Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2015; Ludovico Carlino, “Militant Leadership Monitor,” Academia, vol. 4, no. 8, August 2013, 12; Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Houthi Phenomenon, RAND, 2010, 116, 119.

  26. 26.

    Shaun Overton, “The Yemenis Arms Trade. Still a Concern for Terrorism and Regional Security,” Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, vol. 3, no. 9, May 6, 2005; John R. Bradly, After the Arab Spring, 112.

  27. 27.

    Bruce Riedel, “Who Are the Houthis and Why Are We in War with Them,” The New Geopolitics of the Middle East, Brooking Institute, December 18, 2017; Lucas Winter, “Conflict in Yemen: Simple People, Complicated Circumstances,” Middle East Policy Council, vol. 18, spring, no. 1, 2011.

  28. 28.

    Lucas Winter, “Conflict in Yemen: Simple People, Complicated Circumstances,” Middle East Policy Council, vol. 18, spring, no. 1, 2011.

  29. 29.

    Kayhan Newspaper, A Review of the History of the Six Wars of the Yemeni Government Against Al-Houthi: Ansarullah, A Leader of the Struggle for Demands of Yemenis, September 11, 2014, available at www.magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=3023747; Ansarullah Movement from the Beginning to the Present Day; Hussein al-Houthi’s journey to Iran, defapress.ir/fa/news/43191/جنبش-انصارالله-از-پیدایش-تاکنون-سفر-حسین-الحوثی-به-ایران.

  30. 30.

    Ginny Hill, Yemen Endures. Civil War, Saudi Adventurism, and the Future of Arabia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, 178; Al Minbar, Mission Statement; Lucas Winter, “Conflict in Yemen: Simple People, Complicated Circumstances,” Middle East Policy Council, vol. 18, spring, no. 1, 2011.

  31. 31.

    Ginny Hills, Yemen Endures.

  32. 32.

    BBC, Yemen rebels ‘seize Saudi area,’ BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8341875.stm; “Houthis Say They Will Withdraw from Saudi If Riyadh Ends Attacks,” Naharnet (AFP), 23 December 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2009.

  33. 33.

    Ginny Hill, Yemen Endures, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, 177.

  34. 34.

    Ibid., 181, 266.

  35. 35.

    Hill, Yemen Endures, 248, 265; Mehran Kamrava, Troubled Water. Insecurity in the Persian Gulf, 2018, Cornell University Press, p. 144.

  36. 36.

    Iran Tried To Stop Houthi Rebels In Yemen, Obama Says, Huffington Post, August 6, 2015; Ginny Hill, Yemen Endures, 284; Saudi bluff from the point of view of a political deputy of the IRGC, www.shia-news.com/fa/news/109193/بلوف-سعودی-ها-از-دیدگاه-معاون-سیاسی-سپاه; Saudi’s Bluff, Tabnak, https://www.tabnak.ir/fa/news/558503/معاون-سیاسی-سپاه-سعودی%E2%80%8Cها-بلوف-می%E2%80%8Cزنند.

  37. 37.

    Luis Simon, “Demystifying the A2/AD Concept,” War on the Rocks, January 4, 2017; Sam J. Tangredi, Anti-Access Warfare: Countering Anti-Access and Area-Denial Strategies, 261.

  38. 38.

    Quoted Anthony Cordesman and Martin Klieber, Iran’s Military Forces and Fighting Capability, p. 14.

  39. 39.

    David Dileggo, Alma Keshavarz, Robert J. Bunker, eds. Iran and Hezbollah. Hybrid Warfare Activity, A Small Wars Journal Anthology. (Bloomington, iUniverse) 2016, p. 36 and 436; Mark Gunzinger, “Outside In. Operating from Range to Defeat Iran’s Anti-Access and Area-Denial Threats,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, 2011, 21, 31.

  40. 40.

    Michael Knights and Farsin Nadimi, “Curbing Houthi Attacks on Civilian Ships in the Bab al-Mandab,” The Washington Institute, Policy-Watch 2998, July 27, 2018; Michael Theodoulou, Rebellion reflects ‘regional rivalry,’ November 9, 2009, available at https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/rebellion-reflects-regional-rivalry-1.593779.

  41. 41.

    The Report of a US Think Tank About Iran’s Anti-Access Strategy, Mashregh News Agency, https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/669094/گزارش-اندیشکده-آمریکایی-از-راهبرد-ضددسترسی-ایران-در-منطقه-عکس; Farhad Rezaei, Iran’s Foreign Policy After the Nuclear Agreement: Politics of Normalizers and Traditionalists, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

  42. 42.

    Quds Online, The rise of Iran’s supreme power in the region, November 13, 2014, qudsonline.ir/news/246473/ظهور-قدرت-برتر-ایران-در-منطقه; Dana, Iran has dominated the four Arab capitals, Dana.Ir, www.dana.ir/news/152213.html/ایران-بر-4-پایتخت-عربی-مسلط-شده-است; Rouhani says “brilliant and resounding victory” in Yemen; Iranian prisoners freed, Aden Alghad, adengd.net/news/124484/#.VCQUb_ldWjI; Nadir Uskowi, Temperature Rising. Iran Revolutionary Guards and Wars in the Middle East, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, 2603; Thomas Juneau, “Iran’s Policy Toward the Houthis. A Limited Return on a Modest Investment.” International Affairs, 92, No. 3 (2016), 649–963; Simon Henderson, “Conflict and Cover Up,” The Hill, January 25, 2018.

  43. 43.

    Eric Schmitt and Robert F. Worth, “With Arms for Yemen, Rebels Seek Wider Middle East War,” New York Times, March 15, 2012; Revision of US Strategies to Prevent Iran from Transferring Weapons, Tabyin Center, www.tabyincenter.ir/qadim/index.php/rasad/تجدید-نظر-در-استراتژی-آمریکا-در-بازداشتن-ایران-از-انتقال-سلاح; Mahan Air: An Airline that supports Iranian-backed conflicts in the Middle East, afghanistan.asia-news.com/prs/articles/cnmi_st/features/2017/03/27/feature-03.

  44. 44.

    Nader Uskowi, Temperatures Rising, loc. 2714.

  45. 45.

    Iran Diplomacy, Iran’s success in Syria and the possibility of a long-term conflict, March 16, 2017, irdiplomacy.ir/fa/news/1968033/موفقیت-ایران-در-سوریه-و-احتمال-درگیری-طولانی-مدت; Mojtaba Taleghani, Adventurous Expansionism Under the Guise of Defending Resistance Axis, Mihan, December 18, 2016, mihan.net/1395/09/28/928/#m5.

  46. 46.

    Michael Knights and Farsin Nadimi, “Curbing Houthi Attacks on Civilian Ships in the Bab al-Mandab,” The Washington Institute, Policy-Watch 2998, July 27, 2018; Reuters, UAE Coaction Destroyed Two Boats, May 23, 2018; Maj. Gen. Bagheri: We May Have a Naval Base on the Coast of Yemen or Syria, Asr Iran, https://www.asriran.com/fa/news/507927/سرلشکر-باقری-شاید-زمانی-در-سواحل-یمن-یا-سوریه-پایگاه-دریایی-داشته-باشیم; We May Have a Naval Base on the Coast of Yemen or Syria, Donya-e Eqtesad, https://donya-e-eqtesad.com/بخش-خبر-64/1081134-شاید-زمانی-در-سواحل-یمن-یا-سوریه-پایگاه-داشته-باشیم.

  47. 47.

    General Sharif’s Reaction to a Claim Made by one of the IRGC Commanders, Parsineh, August 7, 2018, https://www.parsine.com/fa/news/457100/سردار-شریف-یمنی-ها-و-لبنانی-ها-در-سطحی-هستند-که-بتوانند-از-کشورشان-دفاع-کنند; Who is Nasser Shabani, the IRGC Commander who Made Controversial Statement on Yemen? Radio Farda, August 7, 2018, https://www.radiofarda.com/a/op-ed-who-is-the-irgc-controversial-commander-on-Yemen/29419666.html; Ansarullah Shooting to Riyadh: Dubai is the Next Target, Kayhan Newspaper, available at http://www.ghatreh.com/news/nn40014737/شلیک-انصارالله-ریاض-لرزه-تهران-وقتی-کیهان-خوی-زند; “Iran’s Saviz ‘Cargo Ship’ Set Up Red Sea Attack on Saudi Tanker,” Debka, July 28, 2018.

  48. 48.

    Michael Knights and Farsin Nadimi, “Curbing Houthi Attacks on Civilian Ships in the Bab al-Mandab,” The Washington Institute, Policy-Watch 2998, July 27, 2018; Simon Henderson, “Conflict and Cover Up,” The Hill, January 25, 2018.

  49. 49.

    UN Panel of Experts, Yemen, January 26, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/letter-dated-26-january-2018-panel-experts-yemen-mandated-security-council-resolution.

  50. 50.

    “Harrowing Accounts of Torture in Houthi Prisons,” Al Sharq al Awsat, December 8, 2018; Maggie Michael, “ABC News AP Investigation Reveals Graphic Torture of Yemeni Prisoners by Houthis,” Associated Press, December 7, 2018; Con Coughlin, “Iran is the Force Behind the Houthis,” The National UAE, June 21, 2018.

  51. 51.

    Faisal Edroos, “How Did Houthi-Saleh Alliance Collapse,” Al Jazeera, December 4, 2017; Saeed Al Batati, Al Houthis radicalised after Saleh death: Lavrov, Gulf News, December 28, 2017, https://gulfnews.com/world/gulf/yemen/al-houthis-radicalised-after-saleh-death-lavrov-1.2148646.

  52. 52.

    UN Panel of Experts, Yemen, January 26, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/letter-dated-26-january-2018-panel-experts-yemen-mandated-security-council-resolution; Sunniva Rose, Hezbollah is flaunting its support for Yemen’s Houthis, The National, September 16, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/hezbollah-is-flaunting-its-support-for-yemen-s-houthis-1.770904.

  53. 53.

    Sunniva Rose, “Hezbollah Is Flaunting Its Support for Yemen’s Houthis,” The National UAE, September 16, 2018; quoted in Soeren Korn, “Is Iran Winning in Yemen?” Gatestone Institute, April 11, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/letter-dated-26-january-2018-panel-experts-yemen-mandated-security-council-resolutionn’s.

  54. 54.

    Soeren Korn, “Is Iran Winning in Yemen?” Gatestone Institute, April 11, 2019; Gerald Feierstein, Iran’s Role in Yemen and Prospects for Peace, The Iran Primer, December 5, 2018, https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2018/dec/05/iran’s-role-yemen-and-prospects-peace.

References

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Seliktar, O., Rezaei, F. (2020). Proxies in the Gulf and Beyond: Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Principalities, and Yemen. In: Iran, Revolution, and Proxy Wars. Middle East Today. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29418-2_7

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics