The War in Yemen Will End When the Houthis Are Defeated

October 22, 2021 | Oved Lobel
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The Biden administration took office with promises to “end” the civil war in Yemen and ease the humanitarian crisis there. And so it has reduced U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led Arab coalition that has been supporting the country’s pre-2015 government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, and pressured Riyadh to scale down its military efforts. By doing so, Washington hopes it will encourage the two sides to negotiate a compromise, rather than simply encourage the Houthis to keep fighting until they conquer the whole country. Oved Lobel argues that this entire line of thinking is based on a fundamental misapprehension of the situation:

First, the war in Yemen is not a proxy war [between Riyadh and Tehran] and did not start with the Saudi-led coalition’s defensive intervention against the Houthi coup in 2015, when the group illegally seized power in alliance with its erstwhile enemy, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Rather . . . the war is an extension of the Houthi jihad—what they call the “Quranic March”—unleashed under Iranian tutelage in 2004 to establish a theocratic, totalitarian Islamic state.

This ferocious jihad continued through 2010 and even through the Arab Spring protests in 2011, though this chronology is ignored by Houthi apologists in the U.S. government and the broader [foreign-policy-analysis] community. Ansar Allah, as the Houthis are formally known, is quite explicit: its non-negotiable intention is to expand its Islamic state across the Arabian Peninsula in order to fight Israel and what they view as the U.S. puppet regimes of the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. Their anti-Semitism is such an integral part of their ideology that they recently completed their ethnic cleansing campaign, begun around 2007, against Yemeni Jews, [of whom there were only a handful].

The second prevalent misconception is that a Saudi blockade of Yemen is the main cause of the humanitarian catastrophe in the country. Leaving aside Saudi Arabia’s dubious capacity to enforce whatever blockade exists, it does not really impact imports such as food and oil. Moreover, multiple former and current U.S. officials involved in Yemen policy have testified that it is the Houthi regime, not the blockade, that is overwhelmingly responsible for the problems relating to humanitarian aid.

The most immediate concern, regardless of any broader Yemen or Iran policy, is helping the Saudis repulse the Houthi attack on Marib. Any realistic U.S. policy needs to recognize that almost all diplomatic engagement with the Houthis will be fruitless. . . . If the U.S. wishes to avoid a second Afghanistan, it must recognize the simple fact that—contrary to the incessant mantra “there is no military solution”—there is in fact no diplomatic solution currently on the horizon.

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