Trying to End the War in Yemen, the U.S. Has Merely Exacerbated It

March 8, 2021 | Jonathan Spyer
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In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthi militia launched drones and missiles at Saudi oil fields yesterday, as part of their efforts to punish the Saudis and their pro-Western allies for supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government. The attack comes as Washington has withdrawn its support for the Saudis, even as the Houthis have been stepping up their assault on the city of Marib—the last major the government stronghold in the northern part of the country, and a center for the distribution of oil and gas to the rest. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The timing [of the present offensive] is crucial to understanding what is now happening. On February 4, President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. support for the Saudi war effort. . . . Two days later, the U.S. administration unconditionally revoked its designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist group. The Houthi offensive toward Marib began on the same day. The Houthis also commenced a series of drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

The [Biden administration’s] desire for an end to war in Yemen is understandable. . . . Unfortunately, however, the U.S. has leverage over only one of the sides. The net result of the removal of support for the Saudi-led side has thus predictably not led to a move toward ending hostilities. Rather, it has resulted in increased aggression by the pro-Iranian side, which now perceives itself as facing an isolated and crumbling opponent rather than an adversary enjoying the backing of a major power.

This dynamic, familiar from the Obama period, is one in which allies are reined in and unilateral concessions are made to Tehran, in the hope that doing so will produce a change in behavior on Iran’s part. [But] the offensive in Yemen, combined with the flurry of rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq by Iran-linked militias, would suggest that as of now, [this strategy is] producing increased Iranian aggression rather than its intended opposite.

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