Oil prices rose as much as 6 percent last Thursday after neighboring Saudi Arabia and its allies launched air strikes on Yemen that targeted Iran-backed Houthi rebels fighting to oust Yemen's president. The development is a gamble by the world's top oil exporter to check Iranian influence in its backyard.
"The collapse of Yemen as a political reality and the power of the Houthis will enable Iran to expand its presence on both sides of the Bab el-Mandeb, in the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea. Already discrete numbers of Iranian naval vessels regularly sail these waters," said J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank.
Analysts say Houthi forces do not themselves have the maritime capabilities or the interest to target the Bab el-Mandeb, while warning of Iranian influence.
"If the Iranians were to gain access to a de facto base in some port or another controlled by the Houthis whom they have aided in the latter's fight, the balance of power in the sub-region would shift significantly," said Pham, who also advises U.S., European and African governments
The United States and its allies regularly stage naval exercises in the Gulf. The head of U.S. forces in the region said the U.S. military would work with Gulf and European partners to ensure the Bab el-Mandeb remained opened.
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