With gusto, US representatives voted on nearly 300 resolutions and amendments, including an amendment to block military, logistic, and arms assistance to Saudi Arabia under the pretext of the war in Yemen. The amendment will later be up for a vote in the Senate.
But there are other sides to the story. A few days ago, US national security adviser Jack Sullivan flew to Neom and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. After the meeting, there was clear affirmation of Washington’s commitment to provide defense assistance to the Kingdom, and explicitly against Iran-backed Houthi ballistic missiles and drones.
Amid such complicated regional and international circumstances, the US Government does not want to send the wrong message following the Congress vote.
On the ground, there have been no military air operations for over a year. The restrictions on Saudi military capabilities will also lead to a change in directions toward European and eastern markets. The withdrawal of US Patriot antimissile batteries from the region, including the Kingdom, has already pushed the Kingdom to purchase similar ones from Greece.
A few days before sending Sullivan to Neom, the Biden Administration anticipated the vote by sending the Congress a new military deal to provide the Kingdom with maintenance services for a fleet of US combat jets.
Battles with the Congress in Washington are not new. During the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, Saudi Arabia negotiated the purchase of Nimrod jets from the UK as an alternative to the five AWACS jets that Riyadh was supposed to purchase from Washington, in case the US deal does not go through due to Congress threats. Eventually, it did go through.
For Saudi Arabia, the war in Yemen is not something that is happening on the other side of the world, but right across its border. Nearly every day, the Kingdom goes into a defensive war against the Houthi ballistic missiles and explosive drones that target its cities and facilities.
The dimensions of the Yemen war stretch beyond the dispute over power in Sanaa. In fact, there are three reasons for the reluctance to leave Yemen under Iranian-Houthi hegemony. Firstly, Saudi Arabia is also targeted by the war, not only the helpless Yemeni people. After all, Iran chose Yemen as a base from which to threaten the security of the Kingdom and East Africa. As it did in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, it is using the same expansion strategy in Yemen and threatening to use militias to destabilize the countries of the region and impose its dominance.
Second, much like Syria, Afghanistan, and others, Yemen is a hotbed of terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This war prevents the expansion of these armed groups and their cooperation with Houthi forces.
Third, the war in Yemen against the Iran-backed Houthis and the terrorist group of al-Qaeda is a war that Saudi Arabia is waging on behalf of the world, to prevent Iran and al-Qaeda from reaching and threatening sea routes in the Red and Arabian Seas. The Houthis had already targeted passing ships with their missiles and explosives and were expelled from sensitive maritime regions. Al-Qaeda also has maritime interests: before the 9/11 attacks, the group targeted USS Cole in Aden. These armed groups not only bid to reposition constantly in areas that overlook sea routes, but they also seek to cross the Red Sea toward the Horn of Africa.
All the above are realistic, on-the-ground considerations. So, does the US really wish to be lenient and leave Iran, through the Houthis or al-Qaeda, to take control or threaten the Bab el Mandeb strait or fill sea routes there with explosives?
Over 50 US organizations and associations have collaborated to push for a draft that blocks military dealings with Saudi Arabia, taking advantage of the UN World Food Programme report on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Unfortunately, the story was told in an untruthful manner. The US Government itself is one of the fact-finding parties on the ground in Yemen, and has confirmed that the Houthi militia seeks to dominate the movement of cargo ships and tankers and to control, sell, and use these to punish their rivals. Not to mention that most of the humanitarian assistance to Yemen comes from Saudi Arabia.
The Yemeni crisis is not contingent upon the position of Congress, nor even the US Government. It only depends on what is happening inside Yemen itself. If an agreement is reached in Yemen that guarantees peace and stability for all, only then will the war end.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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