Yemen Rebels : US Behind ‘Escalation’ Prompting Strikes Against Saudi, UAE
By Tom O’Connor* – Newsweek
A senior official of the Yemeni rebels engaged in a seven-year war with a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition has told Newsweek that the insurgent movement holds President Joe Biden‘s administration responsible for an escalation in the conflict that triggered the group to conduct a recent series of missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Ansar Allah, also referred to as the Houthis, launched ballistic missiles last month against Saudi Arabia, injuring two residents of Bangladeshi and Sudanese nationalities, and missiles and drones against the UAE, killing three workers of Indian Pakistani citizenship. Other missiles launched toward the two Arab coalition partners were said to have been intercepted, including a more recent reported drone attack near a southern Saudi Arabia airport, with subsequent shrapnel injuring a dozen people.
The developments were only the latest in a series of Ansar Allah missile strikes against Saudi Arabia, and more recently, the UAE, which have been viewed as yet another escalation in the long-running war.
But Ansar Allah Deputy Information Secretary Nasreddin Amer told Newsweek that the operations came in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s deadly air campaign, which was accused last month of killing scores of people, including children, near a northern prison, along with a series of intense clashes between his movement and pro-government fighters near the strategic port city of Marib.
“There is an escalation by the countries of aggression against our country, under clear directives from America, and therefore we escalated our operations against them in response to that,” Amer said.
Asked about Ansar Allah’s goals given the potential international fallout, Amer said the most important objective was bringing an end to the conflict and lifting the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of Yemen’s air, land and sea borders.
“We are of the position that the biased world does not concern us as much as we are concerned with the suffering and pain of our people and the siege and killing of our people,” Amer said. “We are working to make peace for our people in a real way and not just statements in the air as the Biden administration does in its talk about peace without any clear decision”.
The war in Yemen has its roots in the 2011 series of regional uprisings sometimes referred to as the Arab Spring. Popular protests resulted in the ousting of longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, leaving his deputy and successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to contend with lingering discontent as well as rival insurgencies conducted by the Zaidi Shiite Muslim Ansar Allah and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim forces, including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Ansar Allah managed to take control of the capital Sanaa by early 2015, forcing Hadi to relocate to the southern city of Aden, from which the internationally recognized leader has since fled to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh would form a coalition of Arab powers including Abu Dhabi to back a pro-government campaign in an attempt to rout the rebels and allied forces ruling large parts of Yemen.
But today the conflict remains at an effective stalemate and a series of catastrophes including poverty, malnutrition and disease has led the United Nations to repeatedly refer to the situation in Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Compounding these calamities have been longstanding concerns about growing civilian casualties, much of which has been blamed on the airstrikes regularly conducted by the Saudi-led coalition.
These concerns were enough to prompt the U.S. Congress to invoke the War Powers Act for the first time in an attempt to force former President Donald Trump to halt U.S. assistance for the Saudi-led campaign, but the motion was vetoed in 2019. Shortly after taking office last year, Biden announced last February he would end U.S. military aid to the Saudi-led war effort.
But the White House has continued to voice support for Riyadh, a position reiterated following the recent missiles attacks during Biden’s phone call Wednesday with Saudi King Salman on Friday, when the U.S. leader “underscored the U.S. commitment to support Saudi Arabia in the defense of its people and territory from these attacks and full support for UN-led efforts to end the war in Yemen.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price also issued a statement of condemnation Thursday in response to the most recent Ansar Allah attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport.
“Repeated attacks of the last several weeks have harmed civilians and civilian infrastructure and undermine international efforts for a peaceful solution to the Yemen conflict and threaten the more than 70,000 U.S. citizens living in Saudi Arabia,” Price said. “The Houthis have pursued a dangerous pattern of increasingly obstructive and aggressive actions against Yemenis, Yemen’s neighbors, and the international community.”
He reiterated Biden’s pledge to the Saudi monarch and said the U.S. would continue to search for a lasting diplomatic resolution to Yemen’s civil war.
“The United States, along with the international community, continues to urge de-escalation of the conflict,” Price said. “The parties should come to the negotiating table to work together and support the new, more inclusive UN-led peace process.”
The conflict has also taken on a broader geopolitical character, however, as Iran has voiced support for Ansar Allah and has been accused by the U.S. and its Arab partners of arming the Yemeni group. Newsweek reported last year on imagery purporting to show so-called suicide drones similar to Iran’s Shahed-136 model deployed to Yemen.
And though Tehran has consistently denied any direct support to Ansar Allah, another pro-Iran militia in Iraq calling itself Alwiyat al-Waad al-Haq also claimed responsibility for a drone attack against the UAE capital earlier this month, potentially raising the stakes of an already intractable conflict in Yemen.
As Iran attempts to rebuild bridges with Arab countries across the Persian Gulf and negotiate a U.S. reentry into a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal while at the same time maintaining ties with the influential “Axis of Resistance” network of partners across the region, President Ebrahim Raisi called for an end to Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes and blockade of Yemen during a call with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Wednesday.
“Today, it is necessary to prevent the horrific crime of the coalition forces in the massacre of the defencelessness people of Yemen by breaking the oppressive siege of the country,” Raisi said.
*Tom O’Connor is an award-winning senior writer of foreign policy at Newsweek, where he specializes in the Middle East, North Korea and other areas of international affairs and conflict. He has previously written for International Business Times, the New York Post, the Daily Star (Lebanon) and Staten Island Advance.