by Phillyguy for The Saker Blog


The US emerged from WWII as the world’s leading military and economic power. US global hegemony is augmented by the ability of force projection virtually anywhere in the world and control of strategic waterways. The Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa occupy strategic locations in the Middle East/Africa and have been of significant interest to Global powers and resident countries for decades. In this essay, we focus on the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, Yemen and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a major power broker in the region.


In 1890, Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914) published his famous work ‘The influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783’, which would have a major impact on US Naval planning and tactics in the 20th-21st century. Mahan recognized the importance of the Indian Ocean and believed that achieving ‘maritime supremacy’ in this region was necessary for global power and hegemony. 1 Indeed, the Indian Ocean is the 3rd largest ocean, with coast lines in Asia to the North, Australia to the East, Antarctica to the South and Africa to the West, and forms two large indentations- the Arabian Sea, to the west of India and Bay of Bengal, to the east. 2 The geopolitical importance of the Indian Ocean increased: 1) following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which created a 2800 km link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, and 2) increased maritime transport of petroleum from the Persian Gulf to Europe and North America 3. As a result, the Indian Ocean is strategically significant and crucial for world trade, handling maritime transport of energy, agricultural commodities, raw materials and manufactured goods between the Middle East/Asia, Australia, Europe and North America 2. The majority of maritime traffic exiting and entering the Indian Ocean must transit three narrow passageways- Strait of Hormuz, Straits of Malacca and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait (See Table 1 and Figs 1 and 2). 4, 5, 6, 7 While not directly connected to the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal can be considered a de facto connection as it is basically an extension of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. (Fig 1). Not surprisingly, these maritime passageways represent strategic ‘chokepoints’ that can be closed during a military crisis and thus, are a focus of the major global powers. The Bab-el-Mandeb Strait has been described as a ‘confrontation arena’ between superpowers. 3

Yemen- A Poor Country Strategically Located

As they say in real estate, it’s about location, location, location. Yemen is the poorest country in the ME, with per capita GDP continuing to fall since 2010 (currently < $700) 8, but occupies a strategic location on the Arabian Peninsula (Fig 1), sharing an 1,800-km border with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and a 294 km border with Oman. Yemen’s littoral coast line abuts the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea to the east, the Bab-el-Mandeb (Arabic: ‘Gate of Tears’) Strait to the southeast and the Red Sea to the southwest. The southern coastline of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait is bordered by Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia on the Horn of Africa, which sit directly across from Yemen. The Bab-el-Mandeb strait is 50 km (31 mi) long and 26 km (16 mi) wide at its narrowest point, with an average depth of 186 m (609 ft) and connects the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean, to the Red Sea the Suez Canal and Mediterranean 3. The Red Sea maritime corridor is the shortest shipping route between Asia, Europe and US East Coast vs navigating around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa and thus is a ‘vital’ trade link between the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The Strait handles an estimated $700 billion commercial trade annually, with > 6 millon bbl/d of oil and 4 billon ft3 LNG/d passing through the strait 7 9 making it the fourth most important ‘chokepoint’ for global energy shipments (Fig 2) and has been described as the ‘bottleneck’ of the Red Sea and a ‘confrontation arena’ between global superpowers. 3

Not surprisingly, Yemen’s strategic location has made it a focus of great power competition for decades. 3, 9 In addition, KSA and UAE have had a long standing interest in Yemen, supporting compliant leaders, allowing them to exert control over strategic Yemini territory including maritime ports, energy pipelines and deposits of energy and other valuable resources. 10

In 2015, the Houthi Ansarullah movement overthrew the Yemeni government, led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, forcing him to flee to neighboring KSA. In response, Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS), Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, formed a ‘coalition’ consisting of circa 10 countries, including Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)- the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, along with Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Morocco 11. In addition, the Saudi coalition has been actively supported with intelligence, logistical and material support from the US, UK and other imperialist countries. 10,12¸13,14

The ‘coalition’ has carried out near daily attacks against military and civilian targets in Yemen. Cluster bombs have been dropped on agricultural areas, bringing domestic food production to a halt. During this time, over 85,000 children have been killed 15, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented numerous ‘unlawful’ attacks on civilian targets including homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques 16, destroying water and sewage systems, which not surprisingly has led to the largest cholera outbreak in history. 17 The resulting ‘humanitarian disaster’ has been further exacerbated by imposition of aerial and naval blockades by the Saudi-led coalition, restricting the flow of food and medical supplies. It should also be pointed out that attacks on Yemen by the Saudi coalition have continued despite a surge in Covid 19 cases in Yemen. 18,19

However, despite spending circa $100 billion over the last 5 years on the conflict 20 and continuing horrific crimes against Yemeni civilians, MBS and his coalition has been unable to obtain any meaningful victories, while the Houthi’s continue to make slow but measurable progress. Surprisingly, the Houthi’s have developed into a formidable fighting force, routinely hitting targets inside the Saudi Kingdom, many kilometers from the Yemeni border. The Houthi’s took responsibility for the Sept 14, 2019 drone/cruise missile attacks on the Abqaiq oil processing facility and nearby Khurais oil field, owned by Saudi Aramco and located in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. These attacks caused extensive damage to the Abqaiq facility, the largest oil processing plant in the world, resulting in ‘tremors’ in global energy markets. 21, 22 The Houthi’s have continued attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, including the capital, Riyadh. 23 Consequently, not only has MBS watched his campaign in Yemen develop into an expensive military quagmire with no good exit strategy 24, he has also observed his arch rival, Iran become a significant power broker in the Middle East. This is a direct result of the Saudi-created debacle in Yemen, Iran resisting decades of US economic sanctions and bellicose threats and the success of the Houthi Ansarullah movement in resisting a much better equipped Saudi coalition. Iran’s international standing is poised to be further increased by the recent announcement of a circa $400 billon, 25-year security and economic agreement with China. Not only will this greatly lessen the impact of American economic sanctions on Iran, it will be a significant boost for China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). 25, 26

In June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, claimed that the missiles used in the Sept 2019 attacks were ‘likely’ of Iranian origin, but stopped short of accusing Iran of carrying out the attacks. 27 This assessment by the UN clearly reveals its bias and ‘double standards’. Apparently, the Saudi coalition is justified in continuing its genocidal war against the Yemeni population, using material and tactical support from the US, UK and other countries, but the Houthi’s are prohibited from obtaining weapons and other support from Iran to protect themselves.

Global Power Interest

The importance of Yemen, the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and surrounding countries to global powers can be immediately assessed from military involvement and financial investments in the area. US interest in the Horn of Africa can be inferred from the Pentagon’s involvement in the Somalia Civil War, via ‘Operation Gothic Serpent’ (Aug-Oct 1993) which was supervised by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). This campaign resulted in a military debacle at the Battle of Mogadishu, where Somali forces shot down two American Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, killing 17 American soldiers and wounding over 70. 28 This battle would subsequently be referred to as ‘Black Hawk down’ and the subject of the 2001 film of the same name. In 2001, the US leased Camp Lemonnier, located in Djibouti city and originally established as a military base for the French Foreign Legion, from Djibouti. In addition to being a US Naval Base, it is ‘home’ to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA ; Africom) and is the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa 29, 30. The US is in final negotiations with UEA/KSA towards establishing a US military base on Socotra Island, technically an archipelago of Yemen, located 380 km south of Yemen in the Indian Ocean. 31, 32 Following 2 years of negotiations, China opened its first overseas military base- the People’s Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti in 2017. 33 This region is of obvious concern to China, as Chinese exports going to western countries transit the Bab-el-Mandeb strait.


US global hegemony has been predicated on controlling ME energy reserves and maintaining control of strategic water ways/choke points. The Pentagon has had a longstanding interest in the Arabian Sea, as seen from intermittent US involvement in Somalia and the establishment of US military bases in Djibouti and Socotra Island. This has become more urgent, as the US is faced with continuing economic decline which has been accelerated by the Coronavirus pandemic, attainment of economic/military parity by China and Russia and the increasing influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Middle East. Yemen’s position on the Arabian Peninsula and its 50 km of coastline on the Bab-el-Mandeb strait makes it of significant interest to the Pentagon and other global powers. No doubt, Washington is growing increasingly nervous about the inability of the Saudi led coalition to defeat the Houthi Ansarullah movement, continuing support of the Houthi’s by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the increasing success and sophistication of Houthi military attacks, and in the future, the Houthi’s gaining the ability to control maritime traffic passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait.


1. Indian Ocean and our Security Patron Lt Gen Sardar F.S. Lodi analyses the effect of the Indian Ocean on our security; Link:

2. Maritime connectivity and security in the Indo-Pacific by Dhruva Jaishankar Brookings Jan 9, 2019; Link:

3. The Strategic Importance of the Bab Al-Mandab Strait By Colonel Staff Hussain Al-Yadoomi Yemen Armed Forces U.S. Army War College, 1991; Link:

4. Chokepoints US Energy Information Administration; Link:

5. Worldwide Chokepoints. Global Security;


6. Major Chokepoints of the World By Matt Rosenberg ThoughtCo. Feb. 11, 2020,


7. Bab el-Mandeb, an Emerging Chokepoint for Middle East Oil Flows By Julian Lee Bloomberg July 26, 2018; Link:

8. Yemen GDP per capita1990-2018 Data; Link:

9. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a strategic route for oil and natural gas shipments US Energy Information Administration Aug 27, 2019; Link:

10. Saudi-led Blockade of Yemen: How Did It All Start, Will It Ever End? July 1, 2020; Link:

11. America, Saudi Arabia, and the Strategic Importance of Yemen By Anthony H. Cordesman. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Mar 26, 2015; Link:

12. Report exposes UK role in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen By Barry Mason May 21, 2018; Link:

13. Key facts about the war in Yemen. The ongoing war in Yemen, which has displaced millions of people, is far more complex than a Sunni-Shia conflict. Al Jazeera 25 Mar 2018; Link:

14. Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen; Link:

15. At least 85,000 child deaths in Yemen highlight Saudi-US war crimes By Mike Head Nov 23, 2018; Link:

16. Saudi Arabia Events of 2019 Human Rights Watch; Link:

17. What to Know About the Massive Cholera Outbreak in Yemen By Alexandra Sifferlin Time July 26, 2017; Link:

18. Saudi-led coalition continues attacks on Yemen despite epidemic May 14, 2020; Link:

19. UK Complicity with Saudi War Crimes in Yemen by Stephen Lendman July 9, 2020; Link:

20. Saudi Arabia Looks for a Peace Deal in Yemen, But at What Price? The problem for Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is that time is not on his side, even though Riyadh could offer Yemen a better deal than Iran. And if he hesitates, how will the young Crown Prince deal with the UAE trumping him, and becoming the chief negotiators for peace in Yemen? by Martin Jay Inside Saudi Arabia Apr 2, 2020; Link:

21. How Did Drones Take Out 5 Percent Of The World’s Oil Supply? By Kyle Mizokami Sept 18, 2019; Link:

22. Saudi Oil Attacks: Time to Back Off on the Threats by Philip Geraldi James Fetzer blog Sept. 17, 2019; Link:

23. Houthis launch air attacks on Saudi capital- Missiles fired at Riyadh and ‘sensitive’ sites near Yemen border Mar 30, 2020; Link:

24. Saudi Regime Is Balancing on Brink of Collapse Amid Economic Crisis and Setbacks in Yemeni War July 14, 2020; Link:

25. Iran-China pact turbocharges the New Silk Roads- China will invest $400 billion in Iran energy and infrastructure but nothing in strategic pact allows for a Chinese troop presence or island handover. Asia Times by Pepe Escobar July 10, 2020; Link:

26. A deal between Iran and China shows that ‘getting tough’ doesn’t solve the US’s problems Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, ret, Defense Priorities Jul 22, 2020; Link:

27. Missiles in 2019 Saudi Oil Attacks Came From Iran, UN Says by David Wainer Bloomberg June 12, 2020; Link:

28. Battle of Mogadishu (1993) – Black Hawk Down; Link:

29. Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti; Link:

30. U.S. Military Bases and Facilities in the Middle East Fact Sheet by Matthew Wallin American Security Project June 2018; Link:

31. Yemen and The Militarization of Strategic Waterways- Securing US Control over Socotra Island and the Gulf of Aden By Prof Michel Chossudovsky Global Research, Oct 30, 2019/Feb 7 2010; Link:

32. United States to build military base on Socotra island- US Marines arrive to conduct illegal occupation of Yemeni island By Emad Al-Marshahi, Uprising Today Mar 9, 2020; Link:

33. China’s Djibouti Base: A One Year Update- China’s first overseas military base provides an interesting test case for its global ambitions. By Tyler Headley The Diplomat. Dec 4, 2018; Link:

Table 1. Maritime Passage Ways Interconnecting the Indian Ocean with other bodies of water.1

Passage Way Connection Length (km/mi)
Strain of Hormuz Gulf of Oman-Persian Gulf 67/90
Straits of Malacca Indian Ocean-Pacific Ocean 885/550
Bab-el-Mandeb Strait Gulf Aden-Red Sea 50/31
Suez Canal Red Sea-Mediterranean Sea 193/120

1. While not directly connected to the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal is included as it serves as a de facto extension of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

Figures 1 and 2

Figure 1. Map of Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa. Note the location of Yemen and Bab-el-Mandeb strait. Source: The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a strategic route for oil and natural gas shipments US Energy Information Administration Aug 27, 2019;

Figure 2. Energy flow (millions barrels/day) through geostrategic chokepoints connecting with the Indian Ocean. Source: Worldwide Chokepoints. Global Security;



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