Sat - 04 Sep 2021 - 12:00 AM

written by : Khairallah Khairallah Writer Archive -

Many events have already unfolded in the region since the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Among them is the Iranian escalation in Yemen and from there the clear targeting of Saudi Arabia. The “Islamic Republic” interpreted the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in its own fashion. Tehran knows Yemen well in the light of its presence there for many years. This was strengthened after the Houthis laid their hands on Sana’a on September 21, 2014, that is, seven years ago.

From Sana’a, the fourth Arab capital to be controlled by Iran, the “Islamic Republic” dominates parts of Yemen and continues its quest to control the city of Marib after it managed, through the Houthis and with the connivance of the United Nations, to seize the port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea. Iran has turned northern Yemen, from the outskirts of Taiz to Hodeidah and Saada, into a mere missile and drone base at a time when the “legitimacy” government, headed by interim President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is in a coma and in complete disconnect from events in Yemen.

There is this Houthi-Iranian insistence on seizing the city of Marib, considering its great importance for many reasons, including its strategic location.

How will the US, after its withdrawal from Afghanistan, react regarding the Iranian escalation in and from Yemen? Will they continue to play the role of a bystander at a time when there is no indication that the Houthis will stop their aggressive behaviour aimed at imposing a fait accompli in the Arabian Peninsula?

What can the US special envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, do after recently deciding to move in tandem with UN envoy Hans Grundberg to try to find a way out in Yemen?

The answer is that Washington’s envoy will not be able to do anything if he does not take into account that Iran is determined to use Yemen as its main bargaining chip to impose its conditions on the US administration. Iran sees a new opportunity to advance in Yemen and consolidate its presence there. This explains why a drone was launched in the direction of Al-Anad base in the southern Lahj governorate. This resulted in the killing of more than 40 Yemeni soldiers, in the second such attack on the base since the beginning of 2019.

There was no reaction from the “legitimacy” side except superficial words, such as Prime Minister Maeen Abdul-Malik’s saying that this “reveals that the Houthis are not interested in peace.” This brilliant discovery was preceded by Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s revelation that Iran supports the Houthis!

There is no hope of achieving any progress in the presence of a “legitimacy” government of the type that exists in Yemen, especially considering that the Muslim Brotherhood is an integral part of that government. These people have their own agenda which does not contradict that of the Houthis. While the Houthis attacked the Saudi civilian airport of Abha, the Brotherhood-affiliated Islah Party group was focused on seizing the gas fields operated by the French “Total” in the Shabwa governorate.

From the first day it entered the White House, the Biden administration showed a special interest in Yemen. At this particular stage, there is an opportunity for the US administration to act and show that its understanding of Yemen is better than its understanding of Afghanistan and that it will not let Iran impose a fait accompli in the country.

Iran opposes any attempt to find a settlement in Yemen, even if the Houthis are part of this settlement.

There is no doubt that the Yemeni situation is extremely complex and that there is an unprecedented human tragedy in this impoverished country. This should not prevent the United States from adopting a new, clearer and more intelligible approach to what is at stake in Yemen. It should be an approach that shows that Afghanistan’s defeat does not mean a paralysis of Washington’s foreign policy nor a surrender to Iran, which is working to perpetuate a reality in Yemen that resembles the reality of Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip since mid-2007.

The choice seems very clear. There are responsibilities that the Yemenis themselves have to bear, including the “legitimacy” government whose failure at all levels cannot be justified. Half this government is asleep while the other half is an accomplice of the Houthis, dealing with them under the table.

But there is a responsibility that the US administration bears as it is supposed to prove that the post-withdrawal phase from Afghanistan does not mean that it remains a bystander to what is happening in Yemen, especially considering Iran’s adoption of a more aggressive behaviour towards Yemen and the entire Arabian Peninsula.

* Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer and columnist who was formerly Annahar's foreign editor (1976-1988) and Al-Hayat's managing editor (1988-1998).

The article was originally published by the London-based The Arab Weekly newspaper on Friday, 03 September 2021. The views expressed represent the author alone.