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The GCC woke up late to the Yemen threat

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Published: Updated:

Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels have successfully achieved their goal while the Arab World was sleeping. Under the pretense of seeking a more inclusive government, they have taken control of the country, including its capital Sanaa. After pressurizing President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to resign on January 22 following protests, sit-ins and the takeover of government buildings from armed Houthis, the militia has dissolved parliament and replaced it with a five-member revolutionary council.

The move has been condemned by many Yemeni political parties and is likely to result in either an all-out civil war or the splitting up of the country. There exists a very real risk that political and sectarian volatility will open a wide window for al- Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia and other terrorist groups to gain an even greater foothold than they’ve enjoyed to date and, perhaps, a Shiite minority takeover will ramp up recruitment.

Not only is Yemen’s future as a unified sovereign state in peril, there are wider implications for the entire region. For one thing, the regional geopolitical map has been re-drawn to further empower Iranian ambitions to the detriment of Sunni Gulf States and, moreover, a Houthi-led “government” poses a grave threat to Saudi national security.

Dark tunnel

The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) member states are clearly rattled. Warning that the “coup” would plunge the country “into a dark tunnel” the GCC has announced that it will take all necessary steps to protect its interests without going into specifics. The Council has also appealed to the international community and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to assist in resolving the crisis, which, sad to say, is like closing the gate after the horse has bolted.

If a businessman like me could decipher the writing on the wall, why did our governments’ political advisors and intelligence analysts fail to do so?

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

I’m shocked that the GCC’s secretary-general waited until the last minute to publically react to this menace and if he seriously believes that the UNSC or our so-called Western allies will heed his call in any meaningful fashion, he’s in for a disappointment. Especially during a moment in time when the West is more interested in rapprochement with Iran than cleansing the area of terrorist militias.

Easily predictable

To say that I am personally frustrated that no action was taken much earlier to prevent this easily predictable state of affairs is an understatement. For years, I’ve been discussing my worries with prominent decision-makers and writing columns outlining my fears that a Houthi power grab was on the cards while strongly urging Gulf States to take the matter with the seriousness it deserves.

Unfortunately, my warnings weren’t heeded. If a businessman like me could decipher the writing on the wall, why did our governments’ political advisors and intelligence analysts fail to do so? Why do we always wait until the sword is poised to cut our necks before we think about taking preemptive measures?

As long ago as April 1, 2010, I had published a column headed “Yemen needs help not criticism” arguing that poverty-stricken Yemen was in danger of becoming a failed state. I criticized then U.S. Secretary-of-State Hilary Clinton for depriving the country of international aid, suggesting that “her disparaging tone must have been music to the ears of opposition leaders, insurgents, extremists and would-be secessionists.” “Rather than watch passively, allowing Yemen to go the way of Iraq or an ungovernable pirates’ paradise like Somalia, the Arab world must stand with the Yemeni leadership before it’s too late,” I wrote.

Follow-up

I followed-up the above analysis on Nov. 29, 2011 with an article titled “Beware unintended consequences of Yemeni uprising!” In that, I warned that Houthis harbor an “expansionist agenda” and are endeavoring to open-up a Red Sea route to import heavy weapons with which to attack the Yemeni capital and to infiltrate Saudi Arabia.

In that article, I wrote my view that the “Houthis’ hatred of Saudi Arabia is well-known and it is my belief that they have hatched a plan with the Iranian ayatollahs to sneak weapons and terrorists over the border into Saudi to launch terrorist acts aimed at destabilizing the Kingdom as soon as they get the green light from Tehran to attempt the destruction of our peaceful GCC societies.”

Then on Sep. 25, last year, my op-ed “Iran’s agenda consolidates while the Arabs are distracted” showcased the boast of Iranian lawmaker Alireza Zakani to the effect that three Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut) were now in Iran’s hands and affiliated to the Iranian Islamic Revolution with Sanaa well on its way to becoming the fourth.

“Yemen – a country considered the birthplace of the Arab nation – has fallen into the hands of Shiite Houthis, former separatists turned terrorists no longer content with striving for part of the cake, they now seek to consume all of it,” I penned, adding, “Due to our hesitance to stand alongside the Yemeni government against these terrorist Iranian puppets, we’ve enabled their aspirations,” I wrote.

The last paragraph of that column illustrates my increasing despondence. “I can only cling to the hope that now some of our countries have been galvanized to act against [ISIS] and our armies and air forces will extend their operations to take back Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen before the Sunni Arab World is reduced to a shadow in a darkening Persian night.”

Last-ditch attempt

My last-ditch attempt to convince major world powers to take decisive action was my column dated Dec. 29, 2014 published under the headline “Global leadership lacking in 2014.” Among those I called to account was President Obama, who failed to thwart Yemen becoming an Iranian hub following the storming of the capital by Houthi rebels “just as he earlier failed to rescue the Syrian people from the missiles, the chemical attacks and the prisons of one of the most brutal dictators the world has ever known.”

The damage may already be done, but even so, we must not throw up our hands in despair allowing things to go from bad to worse or sit around drinking tea in hopes that a U.S. cavalry will appear out of nowhere to save the day. America and its friends are engaged in their own missions, which may well contradict with our interests. We have the intelligence, the forces, the weapons, the airpower and the maturity to cut the heads of the snakes in Yemen, Iraq and Syria – whether Assad’s gangs or ISIS terrorists – ourselves. The only element lacking is a decision; a joint decision by all GCC member states to do whatever it takes before those same multi-striped serpents begin hissing in our direction.

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Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and the has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

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