The War in Yemen, Iran and US-Imperialism

By Yossi Schwarz, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), 20.4.2015, and


While the Saudi Arabian-led coalition of monarchies and the military Egyptian dictatorship attack Yemen, to the satisfaction of the Israeli ruling class which sees any ally of Iran as the enemy, the attention of the mass media is focused on the question of the US-Iran nuclear negotiations and whether such a deal will be finalized. What they entirely ignore is why the Obama and Iran want this deal. While we will touch here on these negotiations, this article will focus mainly on what’s happening in Yemen.


The Disagreement between the US and Iran


Among the disagreements between the US and Iran over the latter’s nuclear facilities is the timing of the lifting of the economic sanctions against Iran. These sanctions constitute a form of war against the Iranian people. “In Iran the impact of sanctions has been devastating. Over the last year and a half, families living in poverty rose from 22 percent to more than 40 percent, the Rial plummeted, and the price of food regularly consumed by Iranians — for example, milk, tea, fruits and vegetables — skyrocketed. Moreover, the health of millions of Iranians has been compromised due to the shortage of western medical drugs and supplies. Asian replacements have proved ineffective and often result in severe side effects” (1). Iran obviously wants the sanctions to be removed immediately, following the signing of the deal, while the US wants to remove them gradually.

Another disagreement relates to technical issues: Iran wants to keep about 10,000 centrifuges to process uranium fuel while the US is prepared that Iran keeps 5,060 centrifuges. In addition, the US wants to convert the bunkered facility at Fordow to one which does not enrich uranium and also demands the right to inspect Iranian’s nuclear facilities. Iran rejects both of these last demands and wants a deal that will limit the nuclear program for five years, while the US wants a 10-year limitation.

Last week the US senate passed a bill, which President Obama signed, enabling two thirds of the senate to kill the agreement. Clearly Israel wants the agreement between the US and Iran to be scrapped. The big question is whether the opposition to the deal will be able to muster the two thirds of the Senate needed to kill it.

We don’t know whether or not the leaders of Iran want to develop military nuclear capabilities, but if they do, it is certainly within their rights. After all, the US, Russia, England, France, China, India, Pakistan, and reportedly Israel have such weapons, and the only country that has thus far utilized atomic bombs in warfare is the US. Obviously it would be a much safer world without nuclear weapons, but the only way to disarm the vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons is via a working class world revolution. We do not recognize the American imperialists as a power which can legitimately dictate which countries should possess nuclear weapons and which shouldn’t. The US wants to retain the monopoly over such weapons so it can continue to control the world. Serbia, which did not possess such weapons, was attacked by NATO. Iraq, which did not possess such weapons, was occupied by the US. Vietnam, which did not possess such weapons, suffered terribly from the US imperialism’s criminal war.


Is Obama Incompetent?


It is a common claim among Zionists, US Republicans, and others that Obama simply does not understand the Middle East. “Two former US secretaries of state – Henry Kissinger and George Shultz – penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday criticizing President Barack Obama for the framework agreement his administration reached with Iran last week.” (2)

The Jewish Press wrote: “Obama and his foreign policy gurus still hold on to the delusion that if Israel simply would agree to surrender every inch of territory that was restored to the country in the Six-Day War in 1967, the sky would be filled with doves of peace, pooping on Jews, instead of rocks and rockets aimed at Jews.” (3)

In a broader context, Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic last August: “There are smart critiques of Obama’s tunnel vision, and they come not only from Republicans but from former Obama administration officials like Vali Nasr. Critics claim that by neglecting Iraq because it no longer harbored a terrorist threat, the Obama administration enabled Nouri al-Maliki’s crackdown against Sunnis, which helped create ISIS. Obama’s failure to do more to strengthen moderate rebels in Syria, they argue, had the same effect. By focusing too narrowly on jihadist terrorism, in other words, the Obama administration ignored the sectarianism and state collapse that ultimately fueled jihadist terrorism. It forgot the proverbial lesson – often preached by liberals – that when it comes to foreign threats, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. (4)

What none of these critics of Obama understand is that the US is a decaying power and that it vitally needs Iran so that it can remain involved in the Middle East. At the current time, the US cannot deploy its army to occupy additional countries; therefore, without a regional power as an ally in the Middle East, the US will lose its share of control of the region. Israel and Turkey cannot possibly do for the US what Iran can. Thus Obama is acting in the best interests of US imperialism, a fact which makes him even a worse enemy of the working class and oppressed.

In the past, the US used its military power to intervene in the Middle East, as we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq. But to Syria and Yemen, the US is not sending its army, due to its inability to deal with its economic woes while spending billions on expensive wars: “After-tax corporate profits declined at a 1.6 percent rate last quarter after increasing at a 4.7 percent pace in the third quarter. Corporate profits from outside the United States fell at an 8.8 percent rate, the steepest decline since the 2007–2009 recession. For all of 2014, after-tax corporate profits fell 8.3 percent, the largest annual drop since 2008.” (5) Thus, we see that contrary to previous rosy forecasts, the US is not managing to move its economy forward. This no fault of Obama’s; it is the endemic reality of declining capitalism.

In its last wars in Lebanon and in Gaza, Israel has demonstrated that it can butcher civilians and destroy homes and infrastructure, but cannot maintain the stability of the region for imperialist exploitation. It could not defeat either Hezbollah or Hamas. Precisely for this reason, Obama is pursuing the deal with Iran. While the US is unable to send its army to Syria or Yemen, Iran on the other hand is involved in Syria supporting Assad, in Lebanon where it relies on Hezbollah, in Iraq where it supports Shia militias fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Most recently, Iran has become is involved in Yemen on the side of the Houthi rebels, a Shia minority in the north who in March toppled the central government and can take power of the entire country: “In a March 2012 article, The New York Times cited claims by unnamed US military and intelligence officials that the Quds Force, an elite arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC) was smuggling significant quantities of AK-47, rocket propelled grenades, and other arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen. And in January 2013, a cache of weapons seized from a ship off the coast of Yemen was reported by CNN to have Iranian markings. It included surface-to-air missiles, C-4 explosives, and other weapons, all allegedly destined for the Houthis”. (6) While from a revolutionary perspective, Iran’s providing the rebels with weapons is a positive thing, it also presents dangers: the possibility that Iran will take control of the rebel movement.


The Huthies


The Yemeni tribes were first converted to Islam by Ali ibn Abi Talib the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, who ruled the Islamic Caliphate from 656 to 661, and these tribes supported his claims to the Caliphate. The Sunnis consider Ali the fourth and final of the Rashidun (rightly-guided Caliphs), while the Shias regard Ali as the first Imam after Muhammad, and consider him and his descendants the legitimate heirs to Muhammad.

At beginning of the eighth century – after the death of the fourth Shiite Imam Ali ibn Hussein, the Shiites began to split over his succession. The faction known as the Zaidis chose Ali’s son Zaid as the fifth Imam. The other faction, the Twelver Shiites, because they believe there will be twelve Imams in all –chose Ali’s other son, Muhammad. The Zaidis firmly believed that Shiites should rise up against the Umayyad Dynasty, while the followers of Imam Muhammad maintained that Umayyad suppression had made Shiites too vulnerable, so they needed to reorganize and work to empower the community until the day when the Mahdi (savior) would arrive.

Uprising against unjust rulers became an essential part of the dogma of the Zaidis, who criticized Imam Muhammad and his followers for inaction against the Umayyad caliphs. Zaid rose up against the Umayyad rulers of the time and was killed in the battle.

The followers of Zaid and Muhammad gradually developed two distinct theological schools. At the same time, many Zaidis and Twelver Shiites left Medina and immigrated to Iran. In 897, a Zaidi named Yahya bin Hussein, who dubbed himself “Hadi” (the guide) and declared that he was the Imam, left Medina for Yemen. Like Zaid, he believed that it is a religious duty to rise up against injustice. The Zaidis believe that Imams are chosen by consensus of the community’s ulama (religious scholars). The Twelver Shiites believe that one becomes Imam only if appointed by the Prophet or previous Imam. Zaidi jurisprudence is very close to two Sunni schools of Islamic law, the Hanafi and Shafi’i, which differ significantly from the Twelver Shiite school. (7)

The al-Houthi movement in Yemen was established in the mid-1990s by Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi. They were aligned with the pro-government al Huqq party and sought to revive Zaidism. After Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh aligned himself with the US in 2001, Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi spoke out against the state, and the group held mass anti-government and anti-American demonstrations. The government issued a reward for the capture of Hussein and security forces killed him in September 2004, marking the beginning of the current rebellion.

The al-Houthi movement draws its supporters from the Zaidi Shiite population in northern Yemen and it was primarily active in the Sa‘ada and Amran provinces. The background of the rebellion were grievances regarding economic and social marginalization, corruption in the government, close alignment of the state with the US and Saudi Arabia, and excessive Wahhabi influence on state policy and schools. The al-Houthi rebels did not see President Saleh as a legitimate ruler, despite the fact that he is also a Zaidi and the movement was part of the Arab spring. (8)

After 11 years of civil war, the Houthis took over most of Yemen following the resignation of the president and his government which escaped Sana from where they denounced the rebels as “Iranian puppets”. The real puppets are the servants of the imperialists who support Saudi Arabia’s criminal bombing of Yemen. Nevertheless, the leadership of the al-Houthi called for a two-year transitional phase through a “constitutional declaration,” demonstrating that the group’s leaders goal is to share power with the old regime on the basis of partnership.

The Saudi Arabian led coalition, backed by the US, has been bombing Yemen since March 26 with the hope of restoring the previous government to power. As Sara Flounders, Co-director of the International Action Center has said: “The air campaign in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia with US coordination will have terrible consequences bringing further destruction and creating millions of refugees.” (9)

While the Western mass media are not really informing us exactly what the Saudi warplanes are doing, we can find information from other countries: “Saudi warplanes struck a school in a Sunni-populated district of Yemen’s Ma rib city, and massacred scores of defenseless students, a local source said.” According to the source, “the Saudi fighter jets late on Monday staged massive bombing raids on a Sunni-teaching school in the city of Ma’rib, located about 120 kilometers (74 miles) East of the capital Sana .There has been no report on the exact number of the casualties, but the source said the raids claimed the lives of dozens of schoolgirls., The Yemeni army Spokesperson Colonel Sharaf Luqman said in a press conference on Monday. that the bombing destroyed 2;265 houses. He stressed that the Yemeni people will fight to the last drop of their blood to safeguard the sovereignty and independence of their country .The spokesperson said that the Saudi regime is the main backer of all terrorist groups particularly al-Qaeda militants in the region”. (10)

Indeed, on the ground the Houthis are facing the military power of the local branches of al-Qaida and the Islamic State. Thus, whereas in other parts of the world al-Qaeda is portrayed by the US as barbaric, in Yemen the Americans are in bed with them.

Clearly the Houthi leadership’s plan of power-sharing is backed by Iran. On Friday, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, submitted a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon outlining a four-point peace plan for Yemen calling for “an immediate ceasefire and end of all foreign military attacks, humanitarian assistance, a resumption of broad national dialogue and ‘establishment of an inclusive national unity government.’” (11)

This brings to mind Hezbollah’s refusal to take power following the Second Lebanese War when one million Lebanese wanted to overthrow the government and Hezbollah stopped them. Today Hezbollah is stronger than ever, yet it still does not want to take power for reasons Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution explains.


What is Iran’s game?


Martin Reardon in Aljazeera wrote: “Reminiscent of the ‘Great Game’ played out in Afghanistan between Great Britain and Russia more than a hundred years ago, Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in their own decades-long strategic rivalry for power and influence in the Middle East, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf and Arabian Sea. It is built mostly along sectarian and ideological lines – Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world. While recent high-level discussions between the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers would suggest a possible thawing in their cold relations, the fact of the matter is, too much bad blood exists between them for any meaningful, long-term rapprochement, at least in the near-term. The more likely state of affairs is that they are simply reassessing their strategies, taking into account all the events in the region, and preparing their next moves on the Middle East chessboard.” (12)

No doubt there is some truth in what Reardon writes here, but what he misses is that Saudi Arabia is client state of the US, while Iran would like to act as a policeman for the US and other imperialists but whether it would be possible in light of their history has to be seen. In Afghanistan of the late 19th century, both England and Russia were imperialist states fighting for their share of the robbery of the exploited.


A Revolutionary Program


We, the ISL section of the RCIT, have backed the Houthi rebellion from its very beginning. Yet we have warned that their leadership will betray the aspiration of the Yemen’s super-exploited workers and poor and have furthermore explained that without a working class supported by the poor peasants, urban poor, women, unemployed, and youth, and led by a revolutionary workers’ party that will participate in the democratic struggle and lead it to a socialist revolution, the road to liberation will be blocked. Now is the time for the most dedicated rebels to found such a party by before the imperialists, with the help of Saudi Arabia and Iran, will gain control of Yemen. As our Yemenite comrades wrote: “A major step on the path to this goal will be the forming of a Constituent Assembly to formulate a new constitution for the country, one which will unite the workers and poor irrespective of their religious believes. Those of us, like we as supporters of the RCIT, who are revolutionaries, would fight inside this assembly for a socialist program. But towards this future step, we the working class, the peasants and the poor must see our main task as being the formation of independent organizations; organizations which will strive for the founding of new, popular, council-based democratic councils of action based on regular assemblies of the workers and popular masses. Among the first actions of such councils will be the formation of popular armed militias – for which we will call upon the Houthi leadership to provide us with arms and ammunition in the context of our mutual fight against the foreign aggressors.” (13)

* Defend Yemen against the al-Saud Gang of Aggressors! Support the resistance led by the Houthi rebels while not giving any political support to their leadership! No return of the reactionary lackey “President” al-Hadi!

* Support the popular campaign to boycott goods made by countries which participate in the Saudi-led war of aggression!

* For a mass movement which unites Sunni and Shia workers and fellahin, one which is based on solidarity and respect for all groups!

* For a revolutionary Constituent Assembly whose delegates should be controllable and open to recall by the popular masses!

* For the founding of popular action councils and armed militias to defend Yemen against Saudi aggression and to advance the Second Revolution!

* For a revolutionary workers party as part of the Fifth International.



(1) Beheshteh Farshneshani: In Iran, Sanctions Hurt the Wrong People, New York Times, 22 January, 2014,

(2) Ex-secretaries of state Kissinger, Shultz pan Obama's Iran nuclear deal, The Jerusalem Post, 8 April 2015,

(3) Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu: ‘Arab-Israel Alliance’ Leaving Obama Isolated, The Jewish Press, 27 March 2015,

(4) Peter Beinart: Actually, Obama Does Have a Strategy in the Middle East, The Atantic, 29 August, 2014,

(5) Lucia Mutikani :U.S. economic growth slows in fourth quarter; corporate profits fall, Reuter, 27 March 2015,

(6) Martin Reardon: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the 'Great Game' in Yemen, Aljazeera, 26 March 2015

(7) See Mehdi Khalaji: Yemen's Zaidis: A Window for Iranian Influence, The Washington Institute, 2 February 2015,

(8) Katherine Zimmerman, Chris Harnisc: Profile: al Houthi Movement, 28 January 2010,

(9) Sara Flounders: Saudi bombing will have horrendous impact expanding far beyond Yemen, 10 April 2015,

(10) Pakistan News: Any Difference With Zionist Israeli Slaughter In Gaza??: Saudi Bombers Strike School in Yemen’s Ma’rib, Massacre Dozens, 22 April 2015,

(11) Louis Charbonneau: Iran submits four-point Yemen peace plan to United Nations, Reuters, 17 April 2015,

(12) See on this Martin Reardon: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the 'Great Game' in Yemen

(13) Mohammed Al Wazeer: Yemen Under Attack, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, Yemen, 15.4.2015,


For our analysis of the Yemeni Revolution we refer readers to:

RCIT: Defend Yemen against the Al-Saud Gang of Aggressors! No to Sectarian Divisions and Civil War! For a Workers’ and Popular Government! Joint Statement of the International Secretariat of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) and the RCIT Yemen, 3.4.2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 34,

Mohammed Al Wazeer: Yemen Under Attack, RCIT Yemen, 15.4.2015,

RCIT: Yemen: Down with the Price Hikes! For a “Second Revolution” to Establish a Workers and Fallahin Government! 3.9.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 27,

Yemen: The Mass Protests continue, Report from a Yemeni Supporter of the RCIT, 4.9.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 27,


For recent RCIT documents on the imperialist aggression in the Middle East and the state of the Arab Revolution, see among others:

* RCIT: Revolutionary Unity to Advance the Struggle for Liberation! Open Letter to All Revolutionary Organizations and Activists at the WSF-Meeting in Tunis 24-28 March 2015, March 2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 33,

* RCIT: Perspectives for the Class Struggle in Light of the Deepening Crisis in the Imperialist World Economy and Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation and Perspectives Ahead, 11 January 2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 32,

* RCIT: Defeat Obama’s New Crusade in the Middle East! For an International Mass Movement to Defeat the Offensive of the Great Western Powers! Support the Kurdish Struggle for an Independent State! No to the Harassment of Muslims in Western Countries! 18.9.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 27,

* RCIT: Defend Iraq against another Aggression of US Imperialism! Support the Kurdish Right of Self-Determination against IS! Unite the Struggle against the US Attack with the Palestinian Resistance against Israel! 9.8.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 26,