Monday, October 12, 2009

Increasing Saudi Rivalry Toward Iran - Analysis

Iranian state media is now reporting that the Kurdish militant group PJAK is being "directly supported" by Al Qaida, in PJAK's war against Iran (see Iran Links Kurdish Militants to Al Qaida). In this instance, Iran's use of the term "Al Qaida" can actually be interpreted as code for "Saudi Arabia", for it is understood that the majority of funding for Al Qaida comes from Saudi sources.

Left: Kurdish PJAK guerilla forces, Right: Iranian IRGC guardsman

The Saudis consider themselves on the defensive in their perceived rivalry with Iran. They lament the Sunni loss of Iraq's government to the Shia, a loss they see as a huge gain for Shia Iran. They also perceive their influence waning in Lebanon, with ground lost in the political arena through an ascending, Iran-supported Hezbollah. But lately what really has the Saudis concerned are the recent battlefield successes by Houthi rebels, taking place on its immediate southern border with Yemen. The Houthi (الحوثيون‎) are considered Zaydi Shia. The Saudi-supported Yemen government, which is hard pressed in fighting the relatively under-equipped rebels, accuses Shia Iran and Shia Iraq of supporting the insurgency. And by extension, Sunni Saudi Arabia makes the same claim. (Iran, Iraq and the Houthi deny the claim.)

Left: Victorious Houthi rebels atop captured T-55 tank
Right: Armor and crews of the Yemen Army

The Saudis have responded by means of public posturing. For example, press reports have recently surfaced of Saudi Arabia giving the go ahead for the Israeli Air Force to use its airspace to strike at Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Then came the report that the Saudis requested purchase of the S-300 SAM system from Russia, based upon the condition it not be sold to Iran (see Saudis to get Russian missiles instead of Iran?). In none of these instances did Saudi Arabia go out of its way to dispute the reports.

Left: Region of the Houthi-Yemen conflict, Right: Region of the PJAK-Iran conflict

While Iran has shrugged off these "Saudi antics", it nevertheless remains quite sensitive to its own border fight with the Kurdish PJAK rebel group (which operates in the same general area where three American journalists were recently arrested for illegally trespassing). It is indeed possible that Iranian intelligence has acquired knowledge of Saudi support for PJAK, hence the reference to "Al Qaida" in its recent state media report. This could potentially have repercussions for the PJAK battlefield in northwestern Iran, as well the Houthi battlefield near the southern border of Saudi Arabia.

A video provided by the Houthi rebels, showing plenty of wrecked Yemen Army vehicles.

YouTube video of a Yemen Air Force MiG-21 brought down by Houthi anti-aircraft fire. Questions have arisen over whether Houthi rebels have been provided with MANPADS. An unverified US source reports theses weapons are being furnished by Iran, however no physical proof has been provided to back up such claims.



Nader Uskowi said...


A great analysis! Your take on the use of "Al Qaida" as a code for "Saudi Arabia" is very significant, and could explain the apparent inconsistency of the Iranian positions. Iran had in the past linked PJAK to the West, not Al Qaida.

Kemjika said...

Iran is still one of the top proxy force masters.Too bad Yemen is a poor state, because KSA will not beat Iran at this game. iran has played too long, and learnt too many lessons. The Yemeni army is losing right now..

Anonymous said...

Iran had in the past linked PJAK to the West, not Al Qaida. The West is Al Qaida!