The Battle for Hodeidah: Implications for Iran

The most important and decisive battle in Yemen’s three-year civil war is taking place right now. Dubbed “Golden Victory” by the Saudi-led coalition, the operation is seeking to remove the Iranian-backed Houthi fighters from the port city of Hodeidah on Yemen’s coast.

What is the significance of this operation, and what wider implications could it have in the Red Sea area?

The battle for Hodeidah is seen as a potential turning point in Yemen’s war. Hodeidah is the only major port controlled by the Houthis and has long been a conduit for illicit arms transfers from the Iranians. It also provides the Houthis with as much as $40 million worth of revenue each month in order to perpetuate its fight against the Western- and Arab-backed government.

It is also the conduit for as much as three quarters of the humanitarian aid that millions of Yemenis rely on. Earlier this month, the United Nations said that if the aid gateway is disrupted by the fighting, up to 250,000 people could die from famine as a result.

Nevertheless, the Saudi-led coalition has plowed ahead with its plan. It sees the Houthis’ removal from Hodeidah as absolutely essential to defeat them.

Already, 350 people have been killed in the operation, nearly 200 of those in Wednesday’s battle for the main airport, which the Houthis lost.

Troops loyal to the former Yemeni government and backed by Saudi and Emirati air power are now moving in on the critically important port.

The operation is destined to be a slow slug as the Houthis have boobytrapped the entire area with land mines. The Houthi leader has said they will continue fighting regardless of losses.

As it looks like the Iranian-backed Houthis will eventually lose control of the port, it is important to keep in mind two things.

First, Iran will not easily give up its southern Red Sea strategy.

As we have forecast, Iran is committed to being a powerful player in the southern Red Sea. Its support for the Houthis in western Yemen is not just to be a thorn in the side of the Saudis, as many analysts believe. Rather, it has become the gatekeeper of the southern entry point to the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb, and it wants to remain so.

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. Over 300,000 tons of shipping, including 3.8 million barrels of oil, pass between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean every day.

Iran wants control of this strategic gateway, be it through the Houthis in Yemen or by dominating nations on the other side of the strait.

That brings us to the second thing to keep in mind: Watch for Iran to become more heavily involved in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Though it is still early days in Operation Golden Victory, it looks plausible, and maybe even likely, that Houthis will lose control of the port. If this happens, Iran may see the need to guarantee its position in the southern Red Sea by increasing its influence along the coastline on the other side of the Bab el-Mandeb—Eritrea and, by extension, Ethiopia.

Iran has a history of cordial relations with Eritrea, using the nation to smuggle weapons and even some troops into Somalia. Yemen’s exiled government claims that Eritrea actually aids Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels.

It could be that Iran will increase its commitment to Eritrea in order to hedge its bets in the region.

Regardless of how the battle for Hodeidah plays out, Iran will be the dominant player in the southern area of the Red Sea. This area is of great strategic interest to the nation, and one that the Bible indicates it is not going to part with.

If you would like to read more about what informs our analysis of Iran’s movements in the southern Red Sea, be sure to read the article “Iran Gets a Stranglehold on the Middle East.” Written by Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry at the time that the civil war began, this article shows how Iran’s strategy in the Red Sea will actually motivate a collective European retaliation against Iran as part of a multinational strategy to curtail its influence throughout the Middle East and North Africa.