The footage was shaky, grainy and out of focus, but the moment it captured was unmistakable. Across the water in the distance is a massive warship. The amateur videographer does his best to keep the vessel in the frame as small waves lap the edge of his skiff. For a minute, he chats in Arabic with another onlooker. Then, in anticipation, they fall silent.
Then it happens, just as planned.
A massive fireball erupts from the stern of the warship, sending out an instantaneous shock wave that rocks the camera. A second later the fiery explosion turns black as smoke billows skyward. The Arabic voiceover returns, this time with much more fervor: “God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse the Jews! Victory for Islam!”
This was the scene in the southern Red Sea in late January when Iranian-backed Houthi militiamen successfully rammed an unmanned, explosive-laden boat into the side of a Saudi frigate, killing two sailors and announcing to the world that the militia’s arsenal now includes naval drones.
A few months earlier on October 1, the weapon was different, but the chants were the same. However, instead of a naval drone causing the carnage, it was a C-802 antiship missile, made by the Chinese, reverse engineered by the Iranians, and fired by the Houthis. This time, it was a United Arab Emirates-operated hsv-2 Swift advanced transport vessel that was destroyed.
A week after that, the most powerful navy in the world was the target. On October 9, the Houthis picked a fight with the uss Mason—far out of its weight class, but they had no fear. The militia launched two land-based cruise missiles at the Mason, an American destroyer stationed just north of the sea’s critical southern choke point, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The Mason was forced into defensive measures including the firing of three of its own missiles to intercept the Houthis’ missiles. The attack was foiled, but the Houthis were undeterred, and within the same week launched two more missile attacks against the Mason.
In March, the United States Office of Naval Intelligence warned that the Houthi militia had upped the ante by deploying naval mines in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The U.S. Navy said it would remove the mines, but it didn’t happen fast enough. On March 10, a Yemen Coast Guard vessel hit a mine and exploded, killing two sailors and injuring eight others.
Naval mines, drone attack boats, cruise missiles: These are the latest weapons used in Iran’s quest to control the southern Red Sea passageway.
Prepping for War
Ever since the Houthis took over Yemen’s capital Sanaa in late 2014, the Trumpet has emphasized that this was actually a victory for Iran. In the April 2015 issue, editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote, “The Houthis’ takeover of Yemen was not just a grassroots revolution. It was a part of a deliberate and calculated Iranian strategy to conquer the Red Sea.”
These latest actions by the Houthi militia prove that Iran is making progress in controlling this waterway. Along with the uptick in its actions against naval targets through its Houthi proxy, Iran is directly exerting power over the southern Red Sea.
In late February, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy conducted a large-scale exercise in the northern Indian Ocean. Operation Velayat 95 included operations in an area of nearly 800,000 square miles, from the Strait of Hormuz leading into the Persian Gulf, around the Arabian Peninsula to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait leading into the Red Sea. This is an annual war drill for the Iranian Navy. However, the drill this year was different from the one last year in one notable way: This was the first time the exercises extended to the Bab el-Mandeb.
Geopolitical Futures wrote that the inclusion of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait “offers a window into Iranian strategy,” explaining that “Iran’s recent naval exercises indicate that Iran could be preparing to take advantage of a distracted United States should conflict in the South China Sea or elsewhere take place. If the U.S. does not have the resources necessary to prevent Iran from projecting power in the region, Iran wants to be sufficiently prepared to take advantage of the situation. Therefore, we can conclude that Iran considers the Bab el-Mandeb important enough to increase its capabilities to project force in that region. …
“Iran is adding the Bab el-Mandeb to the theaters in which the country feels it must be capable of operating. There are no precise details on what Iran has deployed, but in this case, the specifics of the deployment are less important than observing that Iran now considers the Bab el-Mandeb part of its immediate strategic environment” (February 28; emphasis added).
Iranian ambition in the Bab el-Mandeb is natural considering one of its leaders claimed dominance over the waterways following the 2011 Houthi uprising. “We in the axis of resistance are the new sultans of the Mediterranean and the Gulf,” said Mohammed Sadeq al-Hosseini, adviser to former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. “We in Tehran, Damascus, [Hezbollah’s] southern suburb of Beirut, Baghdad and Sanaa will shape the region. We are the new sultans of the Red Sea as well.”
Moving forward into 2017, Iran is simply implementing the strategy it hinted at years earlier.
The types of weaponry that Iran chose to test in early 2017 also reveal its naval strategy. On the second day of the Velayat 95 exercises, Iran successfully test-fired its Dehlaviyeh antiship missile for the first time. This land-based, laser-guided missile system created by Iranian technicians jeopardizes shipping traffic navigating the narrow sea passages of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
In early March, Iran launched two Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles. The last time this model was used, the Fateh (Persian for “Conqueror”) starred in a propaganda film in which it blew up a simulated U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
According to Fox News sources, the new Fateh-110 has been updated with “active seeker” technology that allows it to better detect ships at sea. The missiles are road-mobile and can be used against land-based targets. But the improvements to the weapon, as well as the way in which it was tested, show the Iranians’ primary purpose for the missile: to destroy ships.
But Iran is not done yet. In a March 22 report, Reuters sources indicated that Iran’s long-standing support for the Houthis has increased in recent months, and that it has provided special assistance through its Quds Force. According to Reuters, “A senior Iranian official said Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force—the external arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (irgc)—met top irgc officials in Tehran last month to look at ways to ‘empower’ the Houthis.
“‘At this meeting, they agreed to increase the amount of help, through training, arms and financial support,’ the official said.”
Iran’s Strategy in Yemen
Gerald Flurry wrote in 2015 that the “Houthi takeover in Yemen proves that Iran is implementing a bold strategy to control the vital sea lane from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea” (op cit). This was at a time when most commentators were focusing on the Houthi rebellion as an attempt to take over land and destabilize Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia, which is Yemen’s northern neighbor. But Mr. Flurry foresaw that Iran’s interest in the Houthi uprising was aimed at a vital strategic goal: domination of the southern Red Sea passage.
After the October 1 Houthi missile attack on the U.A.E. vessel, Stratfor wrote that the attack “indicate[s] that the group has acquired new capabilities, raising questions about the security of shipping in the waters off the Yemeni coast and the effectiveness of an arms embargo against the Houthis. If not the sign of a new weapon, the attack could suggest a shift in the group’s tactics that may equally threaten ships in the Red Sea” (Oct. 5, 2016).
Iran is completely aware of the strategic significance of this gate. On Jan. 17, 2015, the Iranian state-sponsored Tasnim News Agency published an article that boldly proclaimed: “Today, all the arteries of oil transport—from Bab el-Mandeb Strait to Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz—are under Iranian control, by means of Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, and within range of Iranian missiles” (Middle East Media Research Institute translation).
Two months later, on March 2, the irgc weekly, Sobh-e Sadeq, wrote, “… Yemen has a highly sensitive geopolitical status, stemming in part from its location in the Gulf of Aden and the Bab el-Mandeb. [Yemen’s] location links East with West. These days, Europe imports 3.5 million barrels of oil through these straits, and if the crisis in Yemen worsens and Bab el-Mandeb is closed, it would create a dangerous situation.”
Iran is fully aware that controlling this gate will give it virtual control of the trade through these seas.
Over 300,000 tons of shipping, including 3.8 million barrels of oil, pass between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean every day. Each ship must sail through the southern passage of the Red Sea: the Bab el-Mandeb. Measuring just 18 miles across, this channel is the closest point between the two landmasses of central Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The northeastern edge of the strait is in Yemeni territory.
The strategic importance of controlling this strait is equal to controlling the crucial Suez Canal, since every ship that sails between Asia and Europe through the Red Sea must go through both of these passages. If sailing from the Persian Gulf this route is 43 percent shorter than sailing around the continent of Africa, which makes it the most affordable route and saves shipping companies millions of dollars.
For this reason, roughly 20,000 ships pass through the Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb each year—an average of 55 per day. About 15 percent of all global maritime trade and nearly 10 percent of global seaborne oil passes through the gates of the Red Sea.
More specifically, almost all of the trade between Europe and Asia is seaborne and travels through the Bab el-Mandeb sea gate. That amounts to almost $700 billion worth of trade per year that Iran could conceivably delay, sabotage, or stop dead in the water.
On Oct. 25, 2016, Foreign Policy wrote of the Bab el-Mandeb, “If a coastal foe can menace shipping transiting this narrow seaway, it would disrupt the shortest, most convenient sea route connecting Europe with South and East Asia. Doing so would carry significant economic and military repercussions.”
It certainly would, and biblical prophecy indicates that it most definitely will. Geopolitical analysts are watching Iran closely every day and trying to predict where its efforts will lead. But incredibly, there is a source even older than Iran itself that forecasts what it will do in the 21st century! The Bible actually contains specific, detailed foresights of what modern nations will do. Included in these forecasts is 21st-century Iran.
“And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over” (Daniel 11:40).
According to this verse, at the time of the end this “king of the south” is going to push at the king of the north. Since 1994, Gerald Flurry has forecast that Iran would grow to become the dominant power in the Middle East, heading up a powerful alliance of radical Islamic nations known as the king of the south. The king of the north in this prophecy is a united Europe led by Germany. While the world is mostly blind to it, some in Europe are waking up to Iran’s plan to capture the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The Europeans see that this strategy and Iran’s overall strategy of aggressiveness and terror is a definite push. And Europe will eventually push back.
On February 3, in a letter to supporters of the Trumpet and other Philadelphia Church of God projects, Mr. Flurry wrote that the aggressive king of the south is about to push the world into an all-out world war. The increasingly violent actions by Iran and its proxies in the Red Sea are one part of that push; a push that will ultimately succumb to a violent and forceful counterstrike by a superior force from the north.
However, while that will be a time of worldwide suffering, it also announces the beginning of the very last world war that will engulf this planet. After Daniel 11:40 are verses that announce that all the armies of this world will finally be put down by the most superior force of all—that of Almighty God (Daniel 12:1-3; Matthew 24:29-31).
Continue to watch for Iran to strengthen its presence inside Yemen, as well as in the waters around the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Here lies the very beginning of the prophesied push that leads into a global conflict.