The delay in restoring the Hodeidah Port comes within the context of a clear plan that aims to achieve the goals without inflicting heavy losses on civilians. The fact that Hodeidah is not just a port but a large city whose population is around 800,000 cannot simply be ignored.
What also cannot be ignored is the fact the people of Hodeidah and the surrounding areas are peace-loving who have nothing to do with the arms spread among the North’s tribes.
The people of Hodeidah will thus not fight the Houthis because fighting isn’t their trait. All they can do is be patient and wait for the day when they restore their freedom after the sectarian militias which raise Iranian slogans wreaked havoc in their city.
Above all, there are two factors which delay military decisiveness. The first one is that the continuity of war is a source of profit for several parties in Yemen and outside it.
The second one is that the national Yemeni army and the Arab coalition cannot but take into consideration UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths who insists to give the Houthis a chance. The Houthis and the party that stands behind them, Iran, exploit this situation to maneuver things.
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Fortunately, the Arab coalition and the forces on the ground do not buy this maneuver as they know well that the only language the Houthis understand is the language of military decisiveness.
But what can be done when there is a UN envoy who doesn’t want to benefit from the past experiences, especially from the experience of the phase when the Houthis entered Sanaa and seized control over it on September 21, 2014.
The day is not far when the UN envoy becomes aware of the size of humanitarian tragedy in Yemen and discovers that the Houthis do not keep their word and do not respect the pledges they sign.
If the Houthis respect any deals, they would not have staged a coup on the Peace and Partnership Agreement, which they signed with other Yemeni parties, including with Interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, after seizing Sanaa. Back then, the deal was signed under UN sponsorship, which was represented by then-UN envoy Jamal Benomar. The current UN envoy is supposed to remember this.
There is no other option except closing all Yemeni ports in the face of the Houthis who will then be forced to retreat to the north and wait for the battle of SanaaKhairallah Khairallah
Peace and partnership
The ink was barely dry on the Peace and Partnership Agreement when the Houthis arrested the interim president, placed him under house arrest and imposed the constitution they want.
Alright, if there are some who do not want to recall what Ansar Allah did to Hadi who found himself under house arrest and forced to resign before he fled Sanaa to Aden, then what about what happened with Ali Abdullah Saleh? Doesn’t what the Houthis did to the former president, who became their ally and signed a series of agreements with them, represent the epitome of treachery?
There are no middle-ground solutions with the Houthis. Everything they are proposing now regarding handing over the Hodeidah Port to the UN only aims to gain time. Ansar Allah desperately needs this port even if it is under the UN supervision.
What matters for them is to stay in the city and in the port one way or another to guarantee their interests. What does guaranteeing these interests mean? It means collecting fees and charges on goods passing through the port and using the port to smuggle weapons from Iran.
Sooner or later, the legitimate government will reclaim Hodeidah. There is no other option except closing all Yemeni ports in the face of the Houthis who will then be forced to retreat to the north and wait for the battle of Sanaa.
Reaching an agreement with them is not possible because they do not respect their word. They invaded Sanaa via equivocation and played all their cards to achieve their aim. They wanted Sanaa to be the starting point to control all of Yemen.
Liberating Hodeidah will be another step toward a fatal blow to the Iranian project in Yemen. If the Hodeidah Port is not important, Hezbollah’s secretary general would not have emphasized what’s happening in Yemen. Hassan Nasrallah said he was “ashamed” that he is not among the Yemeni fighters on the west coast.
It is clear that this talk which aims to raise the morale of the Houthis will not yield any results. Truth is, there’s a horizon to the Yemen battle and this horizon goes beyond Yemen because it aims to confront all of the Iranian project.
Nasrallah gives significance to the battle of Yemen and then says “it has no horizon,” which suggests that he says one things and then the opposite. This is just one of the series of battles that are currently fought in the region to preserve whatever is left of it, whether in the Arab Gulf, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon…etc.
What’s important now is that the Arab coalition which launched the Decisive Storm Operation and the forces that are fighting the Houthis on the ground do not buy what the UN envoy buys.
“Legitimacy” will return to Hodeidah in the right time and the UN envoy, whose good intentions cannot be doubted, will find out that the Houthis master the art of maneuver and that their only goal is to implement what Iran directs, i.e. transform Yemen into a thorn in the side of every Arab Gulf state.
In the end, what the Houthis want to accomplish for Yemen? It is certain that the universities which they will establish – that is if they ever build one – will not be any better than Al-Iman University which Abdul Majeed al-Zindani founded during the days of Ali Abdullah Saleh and which graduated extremists whose only concern was spreading strife across the region.
Awareness of what is on stake in Yemen is essential or rather very essential. If it hadn’t been for this awareness, the Decisive Storm Operation, which has left the Houthis with only one naval passage which is Hodeidah, would not have been launched.
If it hadn’t been for this awareness, the Houthis would have been in Mukalla, Aden and the Port of Mocha which controls Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait which all ships heading to the Suez Canal pass through.
Once again, the humanitarian motives of the UN envoy are understandable. However, despite the size of the Yemeni tragedy, it is a requirement to be convinced that it is not possible to look into a new formula for Yemen amid the current balance of powers.
No one wants to eliminate the Houthis. They are part of the Yemeni fabric but at the same time no one wants to deal with them like they’re half of Yemen or more. Eliminating them is not the need of the hour. What’s required is to put them in their place beginning with liberating Hodeidah.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Khairallah Khairallah is an Arab columnist who was formerly Annahar's foreign editor (1976-1988) and Al-Hayat's managing editor (1988-1998).