Iranian-backed Houthis breach US embassy in Yemen; days after Iranian-backed militia attacked Iraqi PM

A 2015 file photo of the US Embassy in Sanaa. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP)
A 2015 file photo of the US Embassy in Sanaa. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Earlier this week, Iranian-backed Houthi forces breached the US embassy compound in Yemen. While US staff had vacated the embassy in 2015, after the outbreak of Yemen’s protracted civil war, there was local staff—security guards—at the site, and some number of them were seized by the Houthis.

On Tuesday, State Department Spokesperson, Ned Price, was asked about “reports of Yemenis who work for the US being detained by Houthi rebels.”

The oblique question was met by an equally oblique answer. It was not clear what had happened, nor when.

“We are extremely concerned by reports of detentions of some of our local Yemeni employees in Sanaa,” Price responded, “and we call for their immediate release.”

Price affirmed that the administration was engaged in intense “behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to secure their release,” and “the majority” had been released.

Two days later, however, on Thursday, a State Department Spokesperson provided more detail, explaining that the embassy compound had been breached and calling on the Houthis to “immediately vacate” the area.

The Spokesperson repeated Price’s call for the release of the Yemenis who had been detained—indicating that some had been held for several days and US efforts to secure their release had not yet proven successful.

The Spokesperson also called on the Houthis to “return all seized property,” although he gave no details as to just what property the Houthis had taken.

US too Weak in Responding to Attacks by Iranian-Backed Forces?

On Sunday, one or more Iranian-backed militias in Iraq tried to assassinate the Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, using armed drones.

Read More: Joe Biden, world, regional, local leaders condemn attack on Iraqi PM

Subsequently, US officials said that the attack on Kadhimi was consistent with previous attacks carried out by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

However, they were unwilling to provide any “specific attribution,” pending the outcome of the Iraqi investigation, as Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby affirmed on Wednesday.

Since Washington is unwilling to state definitively that an Iranian-backed militia was behind the attack on Kadhimi, there has also been no US response—not even the threat of some punishment that would deter future attacks.

Thus, it may be little surprise that Iranian-backed forces elsewhere have felt that they could attack others who are associated with the US.

Anniversary of Seizure of US Embassy in Tehran: November 4, 1979

The attack in Sana’a invariably brings to the minds of Americans previous attacks on US diplomatic facilities. The most dramatic of them was the assault on the US embassy in Iran, 42 years ago, nearly to the day of the latest incidents.

On November 4, 1979, toward the end of the first year of the Iranian revolution, students seized the US embassy. They held 52 US diplomats hostage for 444 days.

US President Jimmy Carter handled the crisis poorly, and he lost the 1980 elections, replaced by Ronald Reagan, who promised a much more vigorous response.

Tehran, however, denied him that opportunity, releasing the hostages on the very day that Reagan was sworn into office.

“The Iran hostage crisis undermined Carter’s conduct of foreign policy,” the State Department’s Office of the Historian explained. “The crisis dominated the headlines and news broadcasts and made the Administration look weak and ineffectual,” as “Carter’s foreign policy team often seemed weak and vacillating.”

Moreover, according to the Office of the Historian, the US weakness emboldened Moscow. “Soviet-supported Marxist rebels made strong gains in Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique,” it said, “and, in late 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to support its shaky Marxist government.”

The anniversary of the US embassy seizure is still celebrated in Iran. Although that event was suspended last year, because of the covid pandemic, Iranians did mark it this year.

“Thousands of Iranians gathered on Tehran streets [last] Thursday for the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the US Embassy, chanting ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,’ and burning American and Israeli flags,” the Associated Press reported.

Iranian state television said that demonstrations were held across the country— in 800 cities.

“Protesters hoisted an effigy of President Joe Biden wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Star of David, drops of red paint dripping from its mouth,” AP said.

And the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Hossein Salami, addressed the crowd in Tehran, denouncing American aggression, and affirming, “The children of this nation will stand bravely against any power that wants to damage their interests.”

Editing by John J. Catherine