Commentary

Can Yemen Turn the Corner?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

As the multi-faceted war in Yemen continues, the war of words between regional actors who have been involved in the proxy-war has accelerated. The Arab coalition countries have long been vocal about what they see as Iran’s support for the rebels, accusing Tehran of attempting to destabilize the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the Iranians and their allies have accused the Saudis of human rights abuses, largely in the form of indiscriminant airstrikes. After several deadly military engagements it seems the Houthis are losing ground and resolve, and perhaps a negotiated peace might emerge. Given the history of the war in Yemen, however, few are holding their breath.

For the Khaleej Times editorial team it has been clear from the beginning who the true enemy is in Yemen, and it is not the Houthis. Suspecting the Iranians of seeking to divide the Arab world, the editorial touts the joints response of the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council “which is stronger than ever to drive out the occupying terrorist force. Tehran seeks to create divisions in Arab ranks while supporting militias like the Houthis who have no legitimacy in the country....The Iranians can expect retribution from the coalition, which will break the back of the Houthis' resistance. The repercussions will be felt all the way in Tehran if the regime does not mend its ways and acts on its words for peace. The Yemen crisis has brought the Arab states closer for a common cause against a foe that continues to meddle in their affairs. This unity has caught Iran off-guard as it tries to sow discord in the ranks.”

Despite their homeland taking some casualties over the last few days, UAE daily Gulf News has been keen to emphasize, in a rather strongly worded editorial, the determination of the UAE forces to see the campaign through: “On Tuesday morning, terrorists in Aden struck at Al Qasr Hotel and Shaikh Bin Farid Palace in an attempt to assassinate Yemen’s Prime Minister Khalid Bahah. He escaped unhurt, but four brave Emirati soldiers were martyred, along with other military personnel fighting with the international coalition to restore the legitimate government of Yemen....Make no mistake, the UAE and its allies in the international coalition, who are turning back these rebels and usurpers, will not be deterred from their mission: Freeing Yemen and restoring the legitimate government....UAE and its allies will eradicate every trace of opposition to ensure that Yemen rises free again. The blood of those UAE martyrs these past weeks has only strengthened that resolve.”

Iran’s involvement in Yemen has also provided fodder for those who oppose the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran. Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed expresses concerns about increasing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with much of it coming as a result of a newly emboldened Tehran: “For those acquainted with the situation, it is not difficult to understand the reasons for Saudi concerns over Iran. Iran has expanded to the extent where it now has a military presence in Saudi Arabia’s immediate environs....The Iranian government’s increased appetite to expand its activities in the Middle East contradicts U.S. statements that Tehran’s recent nuclear deal with world powers will turn Iran into a country preoccupied only with its domestic affairs—thereby giving up its foreign adventures and seeking to cooperate for the sake of economic openness in order to improve the quality of services it offers its citizens. What is happening now is the complete opposite of that....The surge in tension calls for improving means of communication—not the opposite. The reasons and motives behind this tension must be understood, otherwise we can expect regional disputes in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and other countries to continue.”

The Saudi daily Arab News makes a similar claim regarding the newly-signed nuclear deal : “The Houthi rebellion in Yemen is yet further evidence of the Iranians’ clear intention to destabilize the region. Tehran has been frustrated by the firm response of the Kingdom at the head of a coalition of fellow Gulf countries....Yet even as the rebels’ cause collapses, Tehran is redoubling its efforts to sow mayhem. It is making desperate attempts to bolster the Houthi and the discredited former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has placed himself at their head....The calamity is that Washington, though fully supportive of Operation Decisive Storm, refuses to recognize the insidious Iranian threat to the region’s stability. The nuclear deal with Iran has mesmerized the Obama administration. Yet the removal of sanctions will empower the Iranians to continue their deadly campaign of mischief-making.”

Iranians for their part have used the conflict in Yemen to accuse the Saudis of violations and abuses during months long armed conflict, with the Iranian Fars News taking issue with the UN’s refusal to investigate such violations and abuses: “While the Yemen conflict is taking dreadful toll on civilians, the Human Rights Council refuses to open an international investigation into Saudi violations and abuses. Instead, the Council has adopted a silly resolution tabled by Saudi Arabia on behalf of Arab states involved in the conflict....What’s more shocking is that the resolution was drafted by Saudi Arabia, which is leading the ongoing airstrikes against civilians and has itself committed serious violations of international law — with huge and well-documented evidence pointing to war crimes. The UN should ask why the resolution makes no mention of the Saudi-led coalition; why it fails to mention expressly their military aggression; and why it doesn’t request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist an independent commission of inquiry into such atrocities.”

Hezbollah’s leader Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah also takes aim at the Saudi involvement in Yemen in a recent interview published on Press TV website, and perhaps prematurely, predicting a ‘crushing defeat’ for the Saudis: “Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, says Saudi Arabia will suffer a ‘historic and crushing defeat’ in Yemen, on which the Riyadh regime has waged war. ‘Saudis seek to dictate to Yemen, so that this nation genuflects to them and surrenders; but Yemenis seek independence today,’ Hezbollah Secretary General Nasrallah told Iranian Arabic-language television channel Alahvaz, IRNA reported on Friday....Riyadh, Nasrallah said, seeks to turn Yemen into ‘scorched earth, prevent its unity and development, and even not let the Yemenis prospect for natural resources on their own soil, so that they stay poor and in need.’”

Amidst this cacophony of voices and views, it is not a surprise that the recent announcement by the Houthis with regards to their willingness to abide by the UN imposed ceasefire terms has been greeted with a great dose of skepticism: “The dove of peace is a fragile creature that lands nervously amid the still-smoking ruins of conflict. Houthi rebels and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have reaffirmed in writing that they have accepted the UN’s seven-point peace plan....Yemen’s government has rightly dismissed the Houthi gesture as a “maneuver” demanding that the Iran-backed group hand back territory it has seized since last year....Houthis and their Saleh supporters have a track record of reneging on their commitments. They have mounted several attacks in the past even when there was a pause to allow humanitarian efforts to help the desperate Yemenis....If the Iranian-backed Houthis are serious in any cease-fire they should act rather than make statements.”


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