While deliberating on the War in Yemen, it is important to remember that Saudi Arabia neither started nor welcomed this conflict. Rather, the Kingdom was drawn into it due to the threat posed on its southern border. In recent weeks, the threat has escalated to a barrage of ballistic missile and drone attacks on Riyadh and southern Saudi cities, as well as an attack on a Saudi oil tanker in the Red Sea. Saudi air defence forces were able to intercept Wednesday’s attack by the Iran-backed Al Houthis to prevent injury and loss of life, but it is quite likely that the threat is intensifying. These attacks demonstrate that the Iranians are doubling down on their efforts to prevent the legitimate government of Yemen from restoring order.
Iran’s malignant activity aims to destabilise the region and some of America’s staunchest allies in the Gulf. In addition to providing material support and weaponry to Al Houthi militias in Yemen, Tehran has meddled in the internal affairs of Bahrain, home of the United States’ Fifth Fleet. Just last month, the government of Bahrain uncovered a terrorist cell supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that included sites to manufacture and store improvised explosive devices.
While Iranian influence must be curbed in Iraq, Syria and the Gulf states, Yemen is of particular importance to Tehran because it gives the regime influence in the Bab Al Mandeb Strait, establishing them with a strategic advantage in two of the three maritime chokepoints in the region. If the US fails to provide military support to the Saudis in Yemen, it is likely that the country will fall into the hands of Iran, marking another territory for the Shiite crescent. The destabilising impact on not only the region, but the globe, of another nation falling into the hands of the Islamic Republic should not be lost on the US Congress or the administration of Donald Trump.
The US can assist the Saudis and Emiratis constrain Iranian hegemony and return the legitimate government to power in Yemen. If the Al Houthis do not see a path to victory, they will be forced to cease fighting and come to the negotiating table, and will do so in accordance with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2216, adopted in 2015, requiring all warring parties to “immediately and unconditionally end violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threaten political transition”. Action by the UNSC on Yemen not only further legitimises Saudi Arabia’s engagement in Yemen, but binds the US and all UN members — 193 nations — pursuant with Article 25 of the Charter. Restoring the legitimately elected government in Yemen will counter Iranian hegemony in the region, as well as reduce the planet’s single greatest humanitarian crisis.
In Yemen, 22 million people, almost 80 per cent of the population, are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Eleven million children, including 400,000 suffering from severe malnutrition, are in urgent need of aid for survival. Another two million people have been displaced and more than one million people have contracted cholera. Basic necessities such as food, clean water and access to medical care are scarce. Since Yemen imports almost 90 per cent of its food, Al Hudaidah port is critical in providing aid and relief to prevent famine and the spread of disease. The Iran-backed Al Houthis control the port for their own nefarious purposes, such as smuggling weapons from Iran.
Since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition, approximately 10,000 Yemenis have died in the conflict. The failure of the administration of former US president Barack Obama to act in Syria made way for not only Iran and Russia, but also terrorist organisations that have decimated the population. The US Congress should understand that suffering in Yemen will only increase, not abate, if the US ends support for the Saudi-led coalition. In the absence of US support, a security vacuum will leave Yemen more vulnerable to terrorist organisations, Iran, and Russia, leading to a devastating loss of life.
Earlier this month, almost $2 billion (Dh7.35 billion) in aid was pledged to the crisis in Yemen, with $930 million coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The donation demonstrates the value of the Arabian Peninsula to the Gulf states.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, as Congress prepares to debate on how to balance US and allied interests with the lives of innocent Yemenis, they must remember that the more support they provide to the Saudi-led coalition, the more protected civilians will be. Saudi Arabia has taken a role in countering Iranian hegemony and preserving their own security, but it needs US support to fulfil its objective.
Saudi Arabia, a critical ally and military partner of the US in the Middle East, is essential to the peace and security architecture of the region. The Kingdom is not at war with innocent Yemenis, but rather fighting Al Houthis in response to the threat posed to their own sovereignty.
Caitlin Miller is an analyst. She had previously worked for the International Institute for Strategic Studies — Middle East, and Republican members of Congress in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. You can follow her on Twitter: @_CaitMiller.