During Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearings, Senator Rand Paul voiced objections—shared by a handful of other senators and congressmen—to U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which is fighting alongside local forces to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Irina Tsukerman argues that Paul and likeminded figures in the government and the press have fallen victim to Tehran’s disinformation about a brutal and complex conflict with major strategic implications for the region:
[T]he Houthis have been waging a very successful propaganda war that plays off of international confusion over the complicated ground campaign in Yemen. They have focused the world’s attention on Saudi airstrikes while entirely omitting their own widespread war crimes, such as their use of child soldiers, their positioning of troops in hospitals and schools, their use of civilians as human shields, their abuse of religious minorities, and their merciless use of missile strikes against “adversary” civilians in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia. And while Riyadh has taken responsibility for its mistakes, . . . Houthis have issued no apologies for their ruthless tactics.
It was the Houthis, not the Saudis, who first imposed a humanitarian blockade against Yemen. They then used humanitarian-aid shipments to their own population as a disguise for smuggled weapons, which ultimately led to many deaths from starvation. The Saudis were forced to impose their own naval blockade as a defensive measure to counter ballistic-missile strikes and increased attacks on coalition [forces] on the ground—yet the Houthis have succeeded in painting the kingdom as the villain. . . . [T]he main [goal] of the widespread, tenacious, and largely successful pro-Iran propaganda campaign in the West . . . has been to get the U.S. out of Yemen. . . .
The stakes here are high and numerous. Endangering the Saudi kingdom’s physical security is but one of the Iranians’ goals. Their wish to control significant portions of Yemen, if not the whole country, also reflects their desire to monopolize the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait (an effort that mirrors similar attempts in Syria) and thereby be in a position to threaten the safe passage of all international vessels attempting to reach Djibouti and the Horn of Africa. Tehran is building a naval base in Yemen, creating new routes for smuggling, and mobilizing Houthis into yet another standing semi-formal army [along the lines of Hizballah] that can be called upon for military or terrorist operations anywhere in the world at any time. . . .
Another unwelcome byproduct of Tehran’s destabilization of Yemen is the growing involvement of Russia, which is both Iran’s ally and its competitor for influence. In both Syria and Yemen, Moscow—on the coattails of Tehran—is seeking to become a legitimate power broker, and has managed to do business with all sides.