US designation of Houthis as terrorists harms Saudi Arabia, not Iran & will only cause more suffering for Yemen
Despite claims from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Iran will be affected by the move to register Yemen’s Ansarallah (Houthis) as a terrorist organization, the decision may in reality have the opposite effect.
The Trump administration announced this week that they would register Yemen’s Ansarallah Movement as a terrorist organization, amid fears from the UN of derailing peace talks between the group and the Saudi-Emirati-backed opposition government.
As Yemen is currently facing the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet, roughly 80 percent of the country’s population is in desperate need of aid in order to survive. According to UNICEF 12 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance, two million of which face extreme starvation. This untold suffering of the Yemeni people will now likely increase and not to the slightest detriment of Iran, but rather the US’ ally Saudi Arabia.
Many players factor into the war in Yemen, with the Ansarallah governing the most significant block of the country and holding the capital city of Sanaa. After the removal of former Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi from his position of power by Ansarallah in 2015, Saudi Arabia and other Arab regimes launched a war to reinstall him as president. The US and Britain backed the Saudi-led coalition to depose the Ansarallah from its newly acquired control of the capital and surrounding territory, but have until now failed to meet that aim.
Hadi had fled Yemen and with Saudi backing was granted power to form a government based in the southern city of Aden, also receiving international recognition branding him the legitimate president of Yemen. Despite this, even in Aden, the UAE backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) had contested this power. In April of last year the STC declared their own autonomous rule in southern Yemen, leading to an escalation of violence. In December however, the STC accepted joining the internationally backed, anti-Houthi, “Unity government” led by President Hadi.
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Whilst the so-called ‘unity government’ has been formed, it cannot be considered as a be-all end-all solution for Yemen’s brutal war, as Ansarallah still remains the biggest player in Yemen, in terms of its military power and control of vital territory. Ansarallah has not been included in the newly formed ‘unity government’ and the US’ decision to register the group as a terrorist organization, will, according to the UN, derail peace talks from going ahead between the group and its Saudi-backed opposition.
The so-called threat of Iran to the Persian-Gulf Arab States has played one of the biggest roles in allowing for the war in Yemen to continue, pushing the regimes to pursue alternative trade routes, negating the Iranian controlled Strait of Hormuz.
On top of all of this, the designation does not even benefit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). A prolonged military conflict, instead of a negotiated peace settlement with Ansarallah will further drain the resources of Saudi-backed forces on the battlefield, as well as mean an escalation of attacks on mainland Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has pursued what was supposed to be a simple military solution, with logistical, diplomatic and military support of the West, for almost six years and has failed. In reality the very opposite of a KSA victory has transpired, with Ansarallah only having grown stronger, gaining more territory, inflicting embarrassing defeats upon Saudi forces and their proxies and garnering more concrete support from its primary ally Iran.
Despite Ansarallah having condemned the designation announcement, its military wing is likely to use this moment as a justification for further offensive actions in its favor. As a registered terrorist organization, it would be nearly impossible for an officially diplomatically achieved settlement to be reached and hence will push the Saudi-Emirati-backed forces opposing the group to engage in the only remaining solution. The same solution that has completely failed them since the start of the war in 2015.
Mike Pompeo said in a press release that “the designations are also intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign, and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors.”
However, despite the hardline rhetoric, this terrorist designation will have about as little effect on Iran, as the designation of Gaza’s Hamas has had. If anything, the added pressure placed on Saudi Arabia to end its war internationally, as well as the military might of the Houthis’ cruise-missile strikes on its infrastructure, will perhaps give Iran favorable leverage over the KSA.
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What is clear now is that this move will increase the suffering of the Yemeni civilian population, pushing Saudi Arabia to engage in the sole option remaining, a military one. The results of which will usher in an even higher civilian death toll, in a country which is on the brink of famine and is experiencing a cholera epidemic.
With the incoming Joe Biden administration reportedly open to entering back into the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), this step could not be more vital for securing future stability in Yemen. The Houthis are backed by their Iranian allies and a renewal of the nuclear deal, including within talks during the process of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), could ensure that the Gulf backed anti-Houthi elements in Yemen secure their own interests in the region and hence have no need to pursue war in Yemen based upon financial incentive. This would ultimately kill two birds with one stone for Biden, paving the way for peace with both Iran and Yemen.
Trump seems to be throwing as many hurdles as possible at the incoming Biden administration in order to prevent this from occurring. The impact the designation of the Ansarallah as a terrorist group will mean that if Joe Biden wishes to truly pursue peace in Yemen, he must reverse the registration of the group. On top of this, the outgoing sanctions on Iran, administered by President Trump, will have to be rolled back and the military threats of Trump must be abandoned. If not, Yemen will become an even bigger bloodbath and the US’ Saudi allies will cede even more territory to the Houthis.
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