Only firm action works with those who understand nothing but the language of force, respect no agreements and treat dialogue as a maneuver to gain time.
The outcome of the Yemen National Dialogue Conference has been turned into a travesty in the eyes of most Yemenis and those interested in the affairs of Yemen throughout the Arab world by the Houthis, their masters and inciters outside the country as well as their tacit allies and collaborators within it. Still, despite the passing of time, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states were willing to give peace every chance possible.
However, emboldened by Arab divisions and an inability to end Syria’s debacle, the Houthis and Tehran - their regional masters - became too arrogant. This was reflected in preposterous pronouncements and actions made by senior Iranian officials. Examples of these included openly boasting that Iran now controls four Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a). This is not to mention the unscrupulous visits made by General Qassem Suleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force to the Iraqi Sunni fronts of Anbar, Nineveh and Salah Al-Din, as well as the Syrian war front, as if he were on his home turf. Then, there was the declaration made by presidential adviser Ayatollah Ali Younesi that Baghdad is the “capital” of the Iranian Empire.
Consequently, it was only natural that such arrogance trickled down to influence the actions and speeches of Tehran’s subordinates, whether in Arab countries already dominated by Iran or those about to be.
A few days ago a brave decision was taken to save Yemen from the bleak future it was being driven toward
In Iraq, not only is the true identity and role of the Badr Organization, led by Hadi Al-Ameri, now well known but so is the truth about the Popular Mobilization forces. These are both predominately “sectarian militia,” unsuitable to become the nucleus of any putative “National Guard” that would help reestablish much hoped for national unity in Iraq. Reestablishing national unity is a must if Iraq is ever going to rise again as a genuine homeland for all its constituent communities, and subsequently, Iraq must win the war against terrorism after cleansing the bitterness of injustice and marginalization on one side, and eliminating arrogance and foreign clientelism on the opposite side.
Fighting Sunni extremism
As for Yemen, the media appearances of Abdul Malik Al-Houthi have become carbon copies of those of Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It has become clear how the two followers of the one and same religious authority have applied the same “scenario” in their respective countries. The most important aspect of this is how they both preach dialogue and coexistence while they build up their arsenals under the pretext of fighting either “Takfirists” as Hezbollah claims, or al Qaeda as in the case of the Houthis. This pretext - i.e. fighting Sunni extremism - is the centerpiece of Iran’s regional strategy for normalizing its relations with the U.S., and it is also being exploited in the Syrian and Iraqi arenas.
However, the urgency that necessitated “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen has been the uncovering of the dangerous role being played by deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who threatens through his duplicity and tactical horse-trading to devastate Yemen and cause its disintegration. In this respect, the Houthi attack on the city of Taiz, their shelling of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s residence in Aden, and their move to occupy the provinces of Lahj, including Al-Anad air base, and Al-Dhale, required a rapid and proportionate reaction.
Indeed, Saleh’s virtual coup d’etat was made even more dangerous, albeit indirectly, by its convergence with Iran’s old political “investments” in both traditional clan loyalties and radical partisan links. This provided the tactical Saleh-Houthi alliance a useful presence, or rather a “time bomb” in the former South Yemen, which could have been rewarding had the alliance achieved its occupation of Aden and the province of Shabwah.
Given such a delicate situation, the consequences of the overthrow of President Hadi—the legitimate president and guarantor of the U.N. - GCC peace plan - allowing the emergence of an Iran-dominated Yemen that controls Aden, the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and the Island of Socotra would have created a huge strategic change in southern Arabia with unprecedented and untold repercussions.
Thus, the coming together of Saleh’s military and Iran’s expansionist ambitions manned and represented by the Houthis under the pretext of fighting al Qaeda, left neither the GCC nor the Arab world with any option but to take firm and decisive action in order to save what could be saved.
Iran’s immediate reaction was its criticism of foreign “intervention”, support for Yemen “sovereignty” and calls for “dialogue” and “combating terrorism.” This was not surprising given that these are the same slogans Tehran is peddling to justify its blatant intervention in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well as Yemen, and even in Bahrain and anywhere else its tentacles can reach. It is strange that Iran does not regard its direct military intervention - as symbolized by General Suleimani’s in-your-face appearances and the active participation of his subordinate militias on the Iraqi and Syrian fronts - as making a mockery of this lamented “sovereignty.”
As for Tehran’s call for “dialogue” and “combating terrorism” the people of the region know only too well which groups in Iraq and Syria, and also in Lebanon and Yemen, have continually rejected dialogue. They also know whose sectarian, discriminatory, and marginalizing policies have created frustrated and desperate environments that are easy prey to creeping extremism, and who encouraged and even helped and nourished this extremism in order to blackmail the world with their atrocities in the future. To learn the answer look no further than Nuri Al-Maliki’s former government and Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence-based regime.
A few days ago a brave decision was taken to save Yemen from the bleak future it was being driven toward. “Operation Decisive Storm” was the only way a proper political dialogue, rather than meaningless talks with guns pointed at the heads of participants, could take place.
It deserves the strong support of the international community in order to put an end to regional sectarian and ethnic hegemony which is breeding extremism and provoking terrorism.
The Middle East has already paid a heavy price, endangering its security and domestic and regional dignity, as a result of the appeasement of Iran, which includes convincing its leaders to reach a nuclear agreement, while Iran continues to exploit this appeasement to create new realities of “occupation” and “turmoil” on the ground at the expense of co-existence, tolerance, and mutual understanding.
It is high time we appreciate the importance of a new approach, bearing in mind that terrorism and extremism, which preoccupies the international community, can only be effectively dealt with through a comprehensive political-military strategy.
“Operation Decisive Storm” is a good start.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 1, 2015.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.