Why did the Houthis reject the Saudi initiative?

Abdullah bin Bajad al-Otaibi
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Saudi Arabia launched a wide-ranging peace initiative on Monday to end the ongoing conflict in Yemen, in a commendable attempt to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people who have been subjected to horrendous systematic violence at the hands of the Iran-backed Houthi militia, which maintained a tight grip on the Yemeni state and its people over the past few years.

This was a wise move by Saudi Arabia which devised a historic initiative that is considered the first of its kind at all levels since it gives Yemen a realistic chance for a lasting peace and lifts the country from the clutches of chaos if the Houthis agree to cooperate.

This initiative is a continuation of Saudi Arabia’s substantial efforts dedicated towards reaching a comprehensive political solution to the war in Yemen, which has been Saudi Arabia's goal for decades. In fact, Saudi Arabia supported the Geneva, Kuwait and Stockholm negotiations and made many concessions in an attempt to put the interests of the Yemeni people and of Yemen first, yet the Houthis continued to resist any practical solutions that can lead to peace.

The Saudi initiative has gained considerable momentum on an Arab and international level since it offers the Houthis many opportunities, including the partial reopening of the Sana'a airport and the port of Hodeidah, the start of consultations between the Yemeni parties and an immediate nationwide ceasefire. However, the Houthis seem to be unwilling to concede as usual.

Newly recruited Houthi fighters at a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters in Yemen. (File Photo: AFP)
Newly recruited Houthi fighters at a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters in Yemen. (File Photo: AFP)

The real question here is, why are the Houthis set on rejecting any peace initiative that is proposed to end the Yemeni crisis? The answer to this question sheds light on a very important matter that reveals the nature of the ongoing conflict in Yemen. The Saudi initiative highlights this matter further, and redirects the attention of Western countries, America and international institutions such as the United Nations to the real issue that they should address instead of offering sharp criticism and unrealistic assessment of the situation. The Houthis resist engaging in peace talks for many reasons, the most important of which is the fact that they do not represent the Yemeni people or the Yemeni state, but rather the Iranian regime. There is no denying that the Iranian regime does not have the best interest of the Yemeni people in mind, in fact it is fully prepared to burn the whole country to the ground to serve its own agenda and ensure the success of its expansionist project by continuing to impose its influence over Arab countries.

A second reason is that the Houthis represent an armed ideologically-driven militia, that blindly follows the concept of wilayat al-faqih. The Houthi movement in its historical development over the decades was able to convert Zaidism, through Jarudiyah, to Khomeinism, which is Shiite political Islam. The founder, Badreddin al-Houthi, was influenced by Khomeinism during his long stay in Iran, and then came the actual founder of this militia, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi who had also stayed in Iran. Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi was also influenced by the Sudanese Brotherhood member and politician, Hassan al-Turabi during his stay in Sudan. Therefore, he inherited ‘Political Islam’ from both the Sunni and Shiite perspectives, and he formed this militia that has no respect for any country and has no regard for human life.

A third reason would be the Houthis’ ruthless pursuit for money and stealing Yemeni funds by any means, even if it takes pilfering them from Yemeni men, women, and children without regard to the consequences. Another reason would the Houthis’ insistence on targeting Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and armed drones in an attempt to fulfil the Iranian regime's deep desires to eliminate the Saudi state, in implementation of the will of Khomeini, which is driven by Iran's expansionist aspirations in the region.

The worldwide support that Saudi Arabia gained from all Security Council members and from most countries around the world for its historic initiative demonstrates their just cause towards the Yemeni crisis and the immense efforts Saudi Arabia has put forth for resolving this issue. This also highlights that the real problem lies in the Iranian regime and its Houthi followers. At this point, this should not be up for discussion, no matter how complicated the humanitarian issue is, or how tangled it gets with human rights causes, which have become highly questionable on an international level, after it became clear that there is a blatant double standard and clear disconnect between the rhetoric and the application of these concepts.

Saudi Arabia does not tackle the Yemeni crisis by only focusing on the insurgent Houthi militia, but rather by focusing on the future of the Yemeni state and its people, and does not see this as a bargaining chip during the negotiations with the Iranian regime, as some countries do. This initiative holds everyone politically and historically accountable and forces them to focus on the real issue fueling the crisis, far from any manipulation or alteration that is irrelevant to the future and fate of the Yemeni people.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is one of the main factors that drove Saudi Arabia and the Arab League members to intervene a few years ago. ‘Operation Restoring Hope’ was an integral part of Saudi Arabia’s strategy along with ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, and the results of these operations are hard evidence that Saudi Arabia has put the interests of Yemeni people at the forefront. In my opinion, no one can deny this notion, not the Yemeni people nor any international entity, and this initiative is a continuation of its firm policy and position towards the Yemeni crisis.

One of the key solutions to the Yemeni crisis is “UN supervision.” Under the supervision of the UN and the Security Council, the Iranian regime and its Houthi militia would see their freedom to maneuver more restricted, and their project would be cornered before the international public opinion. In its continued escalation by sending ballistic missiles and explosive drones that target civilians and energy sources in the Kingdom, the Houthis confirm their rejection of the Saudi initiative for reasons unrelated to the Yemeni state or people.

Nonetheless, the Houthi militia is not alone. It has many fragile internal alliances based on few shared interests. The Saudi initiative would uncover these few shared interests and fragile alliances and publicly tests everyone’s loyalty to their homeland. This will force some Houthi allies to abandon this alliance and steer away from involvement in the Iranian project, which is hostile to Arabs and Yemenis.

The legitimate Yemeni authority has asserted that the Houthis are entirely dependent on the Iranian regime. The Houthi attacks on the Universities of Najran and Jazan and the oil distribution terminal in Jazan all fall in the context of the Iranian regime’s control of the Houthis’ political and strategic choices. The Houthis are unable to resist this control, which is the reason the Houthis cannot engage in any serious negotiations that would end the war in Yemen, restore the Yemeni State, and establish security and stability once again.

Lastly, the Suez Canal crisis and the massive international losses ensuing from its closure could explain the Iranian insistence on controlling the Bab el Mandab Strait and subjecting international trade to its power and control. This is only one example of the Iranian policy that only thrives in crises, only uses terrorism and chaos, and only speaks the language of force -- never the language of politics or diplomacy.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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