United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Primer's Blog

Yemen’s Tenuous Ceasefire

On May 11, Saudi Arabia announced the start of a five-day humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen. Saudi-led airstrikes against the Houthis, however, continued until just hours before it went into effect at 11 P.M. The Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement, took over the capital Sanaa in September 2014. During the next several months, Yemeni officials and Sunni accused Iran of providing arms, training, and financial support to the Houthis. But Iranian officials denied the claims.

A Saudi-led coalition of Sunni nations began launching airstrikes against Houthi positions on March 26. Riyadh seeks the restoration of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is backed by the West, as a check against the rise of perceived Iranian influence in the region. Hadi fled Sanaa to Aden and then Riyadh as the Houthis gained ground.
 
The coalition airstrikes have since killed at least 1,400, more than half civilians, according to the United Nations. And some 300,000 have been displaced. U.N. Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valeri Amos welcomed the pause late on May 12 and also requested that “humanitarian assistance to Yemen be routed through existing U.N. and international humanitarian organization channels.”
 
Both sides have accused each other of violating the ceasefire. Within less than 24 hours, a Saudi-led airstrike was launched, reportedly in response to a Houthi attempt to send a military convoy to Aden. The Houthis also reportedly shelled residential areas in Taiz. Maritime tensions threatened to flare after Iran announced the dispatch of a ship purportedly carrying aid to Yemen. Tehran has repeatedly condemned the Saudi-led aerial campaign.
 
On May 12, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren encouraged Tehran to have the ship deliver the aid to the U.N. distribution hub in Djibouti. Two days later, Yemen's Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin warned that “all measures will be taken against the Iranian ship if it enters Yemeni territorial waters without permission” from the coalition. Yemen’s government reportedly recalled its ambassador to Iran after Tehran refused to allow its ship to be searched.
 
The ceasefire happened to coincide with the visit by top leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council to the United States for a summit at Camp David. The following are excerpted remarks from Iranian, U.S., Saudi and Yemeni officials on the ceasefire and the general crisis.
 
Iran
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
“If they are making excuses that Iran provides other types of assistance… let them receive our medical and pharmaceutical goods and deliver them to Yemen for help. The purpose is to save the innocent people of Yemen.”
 
“A government which is unaware of the issues in the region and the world, and is also quite a beginner, has decided to show some muscle for the first time.” 
 
Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes were a “very big and strategic mistake.”
—May 9, 2015 at an Iranian Red Crescent Society conference
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
“The solution to the crisis in Yemen is solely political and through forming an inclusive government with the aid of all political forces and without the interference of certain foreign countries.
 
“Iran supports the efforts by U.N. to stop invasion, to dispatch humanitarian aid, and to establish Yemeni-Yemeni talks and believes that the only way to resolve the crisis is to establish an inclusive government rather than militarization.
 
“The crisis does not have a military solution and militarizing the crisis is in favor of no side.”
—May 13, 2015 in acall with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
 
 
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri 
 
“I clearly announce that the self-restraint of the Islamic Republic of Iran has its limit.”
 
Attacking Iran’s aid ship “will ignite the flames of war” in the region.
—May 12, 2015 in an interview with al Alam
 
United States
 
President Barack Obama
 
“Iran clearly engages in dangerous and destabilizing behavior in different countries across the region. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. It helps prop up the Assad regime in Syria. It supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It aids the Houthi rebels in Yemen. So countries in the region are right to be deeply concerned about Iran’s activities, especially its support for violent proxies inside the borders of other nations.”
—May 13, 2015 in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat
 
“This [visit by Saudi Arabian leaders] gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the bilateral issues, including the crisis in Yemen and how we can build on the ceasefire that’s been established to restore a process for an inclusive, legitimate government inside of Yemen. “
—May 13, 2015 in remarks with Crown Prince bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
“We make clear that we remain concerned about Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, and it is precisely because of those concerns that we believe it is so important that Iran not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And we will continue to work with our friends and allies in the region to define America’s and the GCC’s security relationship going forward.
 
“[We] are enforcing the United Nations arms embargo requirements, et cetera. We’ve been raising the level of effort of the maritime initiative with respect to the Gulf and area, most recently with the Theodore Roosevelt being moved in and other activities that we’ve been engaged in. And one of the topics of our conversation, in the context of Paris tomorrow and Camp David, will be the further steps that we will be taking together with our allies to prevent activities that are in contravention of many United Nations resolutions and also the standards and norms of international behavior between countries. So we are very, very concerned about those activities – in Iraq, with Hizballah, in Yemen, and elsewhere.”
—May 7, 2015 in a press conference with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
 
National Security Advisor to the Vice President Colin Kahl
 
“I think it’s also important to keep in mind that much of Iran’s perceived success in recent years has happened despite sanctions.  That is, keeping sanctions in place is not a recipe for preventing Iran from causing mischief.  And the reason for that is much of Iran’s perceived success is not a consequence of their strength but, frankly, the weakness of a lot of the states in this part of the world.  When you look at places like Yemen or Syria or Iraq or elsewhere, you have a weakening of state institutions, which has provided the ability for Iran to expand their influence.  So, much of the solution is not necessarily a weaker Iran but, frankly, stronger partners.
 
“And one of the things that we’ll be focused on intensely with our Gulf State partners is how do we strengthen our partnerships with them, but also our partnerships in places like Yemen and Iraq and elsewhere, and also how do we promote power-sharing arrangements and more inclusive political institutions in places like Yemen and Iraq and Syria in ways, frankly, that help those states stabilize and over the long term help push back against nefarious influences of all kinds.”
—May 11, 2015 in a conference call

National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region Robert Malley
 
“[P]art of this is to get the GCC States in a position where they could deal with greater confidence and self-confidence and strength with Iran, not in order to perpetuate a never-ending conflict, but to engage Iran to try to resolve the problems of the region, which will only be resolved once the region itself comes together and tries to find security arrangements that will stabilize the situation in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq and elsewhere.”
—May 11, 2015 in a conference call
 
Saudi Arabia
 
Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
 
“[W]e have always maintained that Iran should have no role in Yemen. The last time I checked, Iran didn’t have a border with Yemen. And so the Iranian role in Yemen has been a negative one. They have supported the Houthis financially, ideologically, as well as with weapons, and this is not helpful. They have tried to smuggle weapons into Yemen in the midst of this conflict, and we have been able to stop aircraft from landing in Sana’a airport. And the United States has been able to turn back a flotilla of Iranian ships, which we suspect were loaded with weapons that were intended to go to the Houthis. So no, I do not think that Iran’s role in Yemen is a helpful one. I hope they can prevail on their allies, the Houthis, to abide by the ceasefire, but that’s my view on Iran and its role in Yemen.”
—May 7, 2015 in a press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry
 
Saudi-led coalition command for Renewal of Hope
 
“[T]he coalition command, confirms to everybody that it was and is still keen to make this humanitarian truce a success as it runs in the interest of the brotherly Yemeni people, but at the same time, warns the Houthi militias and their supporters that self restraint and being committed to the truce would not last long in case the militias continue such practices and violations of the truce and that the coalition command would take the appropriate measures to deter them from such acts.”
—May 14, 2015 via the Saudi Press Agency
 
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin
 
“All measures will be taken against the Iranian ship if it enters Yemeni territorial waters without permission.”
—May 14, 2015 according to the press
 
Click here for more information on the Houthis.
 

Report: Iran is Top Low-Cost Tourist Destination

Iran is the most attractive tourist destination in the world in terms of price competitiveness, one of the 14 indicators in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index. Price competitiveness measures purchasing power parity, the cost of access to transportation and hotel services, and fuel price levels.

The index also quantifies each country's enabling environment, travel and tourism policy, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources to measure its attractiveness as a tourist destination. Iran ranks 97th out of 141 countries across all categories.

Iran has pushed to increase tourism over the past few years. Director of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization Masoud Soltanifar said the nation’s annual income from tourism is around $6.5 billion. But Iran plans to attract “20 million tourists by 2025, which will earn the country $30 billion [annually],” he said.
 
The following is excerpted data from the World Economic Forum Report.
 
 
Rank (out of 141)
Score (1-7)
Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index
97
3.32
Enabling Environment
98
4.16
Business Environment
119
3.85
Safety and Security
96
4.89
Health and Hygiene
93
4.71
Human Resources and Labor Market
114
3.95
ICT Readiness
98
3.36
T&T Policy and Enabling Conditions
96
3.89
Prioritization of Travel & Tourism
130
3.35
International Openness
116
2.14
Price Competitiveness
1
6.62
Environmental Sustainability
115
3.47
Infrastructure
105
2.7
Air Transport Infrastructure
93
2.22
Ground and Port Infrastructure
76
3.28
Tourist Service Infrastructure
119
2.61
Natural and Cultural Resources
57
2.53
Natural Resources
98
2.48
Cultural Resources and Business Travel
37
2.59
 
Click here to read the full report.

 

Senate Calls on Iran to Release U.S. Citizens

On May 11, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Iran to immediately release three Americans held there and to help locate another who is missing. Concurrent Resolution 16 passed 90-0. A similar resolution was also introduced in the House of Representatives on April 30 by Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents the family of one of the imprisoned Americans. That resolution currently has 43 cosponsors. The full text of the Senate resolution is below, followed by a statement from Kildee’s office.

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION
 
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
 
SECTION 1. STATEMENT OF POLICY ON RELEASE OF UNITED STATES CITIZENS IN IRAN.
 
(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings:
 
(1) Saeed Abedini of Idaho is a Christian pastor unjustly detained in Iran since 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.
 
(2) Amir Hekmati of Michigan is a former United States Marine unjustly detained in 2011 while visiting his Iranian relatives and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.
 
(3) Jason Rezaian of California is a Washington Post journalist credentialed by the Government of Iran. He was unjustly detained in 2014 and has been held without a trial.
 
(4) Robert Levinson of Florida is a former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) official who disappeared in 2007 in Iran. He is the longest held United States citizen in United States history.
 
(b) Statement of Policy- It is the policy of the United States that--
 
(1) the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and
 
(2) the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release.
 
Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI)
 
“I applaud the Senate for taking bipartisan action to tell Iran that it cannot continue to hold innocent political prisoners like Amir Hekmati. It is important that Congress speaks with one voice on this important matter telling Iran that it must release the Americans it holds if they expect to be accepted or trusted in the international community. Iran says it seeks to reengage other world nations, and the world is now watching and waiting to see if their words will be matched by actions. Iran can act today to release Amir and the other American political prisoners they hold.”
—May 12, 2015 in a statement
 
*Congressman Kildee represents the Hekmati family in Congress.
 

Iranian Generals Dismiss US Military Option

Three top Iranian military commanders have dismissed remarks by U.S. officials who have claimed Washington retains the ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. The commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Ali Jafari, said Western powers would attack Iran if they thought it would be successful. “The military option… is no more than a mockery,” he said on May 7. The IRGC’s deputy commander, Hossein Salami, even welcomed war with the United States, claiming it would be a chance to display Iran’s true military power. The remarks appeared to be in reaction to recent statements by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry, who noted that Washington has a credible military option. The following are excerpted remarks.

 
IRGC Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari
 
“The military option which the Westerners are constantly talking about is no more than a mockery, and they do know that if the military option against the Islamic Republic of Iran could yield results, they would use it time and again, and today they have shifted their focus to other types of threat and to the soft war front.
 
“Today, the Islamic Iran's pride and might has made the world's biggest materialistic and military powers kneel down before the Islamic Republic's might.
 
“They [enemies of Islam] could not drop their grudge against Islam and the Islamic Revolution and thus, they created ISIL.”
—May 7, 2015 according to Press TV
 
IRGC Lieutenant Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami
 
“We have prepared ourselves for the most dangerous scenarios and this is no big deal and is simple to digest for us; we welcome war with the U.S. as we do believe that it will be the scene for our success to display the real potentials of our power.
 
“We warn their pilots that their first flight (to target Iran) will be their last one and no one will be allowed to go back safe and sound and they should call their flights as their last flight.
 
“When the arrogant powers grow united in different directions to weaken the Islamic community, we should use our different capacities to fight against the enemy, and the Islamic Iran has gained many experiences in fighting against the enemy so far.
 
“War against Iran will mobilize the Muslim world against the U.S., an issue which is very well known by the enemy.
—May 6, 2015 in an interview with state television (translation via Fars News Agency)
 
IRGC Lieutenant Commander Ground Force General Abdollah Araqi
 
“Today, the world arrogance is present in the region, has deployed its warships in the Persian Gulf and has military bases in the regional states, but we are not afraid of this [U.S.] presence and its so-called options on the table.”
—May 7, 2015 in a speech in Qazvin (translation via Fars News Agency)
 
Photo credits: Ali Jafari via President.ir

Report: Gulf States Outspend Iran on Military

The Arab Gulf states have a “decisive advantage over Iran in both the size of their recent military spending and the size and quality of their arms transfers and imports of military technology,” according to a new report by Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The report draws on official sources as well as research by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The following are excerpts from the executive summary.
 
•    The limits to Iran’s military expenditures have been a matter of necessity more than intent, and this necessity has resulted from international pressure and sanctions as the limits imposed by Iran’s GDP and its need to support a large native population. Iran has been subject to expanding and crippling sanctions, leading to a devalued currency, significant reductions in oil exports, trade disruptions, higher inflation, and a shrinking economy; challenges that some GCC Gulf States are not facing. 
 
•    It is scarcely surprising that the GCC collectively spends more on their military than Iran. Saudi Arabia, alone, spent nearly $56.5 billion on its military in 2012, compared to Iran’s $10.6 billion. Collectively, the GCC spent nearly $98.5 billion on their militaries, outspending Iran nearly 10:1. This spending superiority allows the GCC to invest in newer technology, weaponry and defense acquisitions.
 
•    IISS estimates of total military expenditures show that that the GCC, as a whole, spends far more than Iran on its military. Saudi Arabia alone spent about 5.5 times more than Iran on its military and the United Arab Emirates spent almost twice as much as Iran during this period. And, as a whole, the GCC combined spent just over 9 times more than Iran on its military.
 
•    SIPRI data show a similar Arab lead over Iran. Saudi Arabia spends some 4-5 times as much as Iran, and the UAE alone has outspent Iran since 2007. If Saudi Arabia and the UAE – the two Arab Gulf states with the most modern Arab Gulf military forces are combined – they have consistently spent more than six times as much as Iran.
 
•    Data issued by the Congressional Research Service show that the GCC took $38.5 billion worth of new arms transfers between 2004 and 2011: 35 times Iran’s deliveries of only $1.1 billion.  The size of new orders during 2004-2011 has been less favorable, but the Gulf states still ordered $106.1 billion worth of arms to Iran’s $9 billion – an uneven spending ratio of almost twelve-to-one (12:1).
 
•    SIPRI data also indicate that the Arab Gulf states in the GCC have a massive lead over Iran in arms imports. The gap is so great in given periods that the GCC states lead Iran by nearly 7:1 during 1997-2007, 10:1 in 2004-2008, 33:1 in 2009-2013, and 27.5:1 in 2007-2014.
 
•    The Arab Gulf states had a clear advantage between 2004 and 2008 in terms of both total spending on arms imports and access to modern US and European arms. Saudi Arabia’s expenditures alone were twice as large as Iran’s, and the UAE was more than seven times larger.
 
•    The gap between Iran and the Arab Gulf states widened sharply from 2009-2014, during which Saudi Arabia’s arms imports have been more than 18 times larger than Iran’s. The UAE’s imports are 16 times larger.
 
The GCC advantage in importing weapons and military technology has been partially offset by the lack of standardized, and to some extent interoperability in GCC and allied forces that come from each country buying a different mix of weapons and equipment from different suppliers, as well as from the lack of standardization in doctrine, training, supply, and logistics. 
 
At the same time, the GCC states benefit from access to outside training facilities, military experience, and access to advanced US Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (IS&R) capabilities and Command, Control, Communications, Computer, and battle management capabilities (C4I/BM). They also do not face technological risk since they can choose between proven systems while any Iranian produced systems that are not exact copies of foreign systems mean Iran must assume the risk of problems in performance, delivery delays, and cost escalation.
 
Click here for the full report.
 
Click here to read Anthony Cordesman’s chapter on Iran’s conventional military.
 
Tags: Reports

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo