In February 2021, President Joe Biden took the Houthi rebels in Yemen off the official U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
What’s more, Biden removed sanctions that the Trump-Pence administration had placed on the Houthis, despite the fact that even the New York Times openly conceded that “the Houthis’ main patron is Iran.”
Next, Biden announced that the U.S. would no longer assist the Saudis in their ongoing war with the Houthi forces in Yemen. He banned the sale of offensive weapons to Riyadh for use in the war, held up all arms sales to the kingdom pending a review, and demanded, “This war has to end.”
Biden is certainly right that this tragic and costly war must end.
But he is wrong to blame the conflict on the Saudis.
Has Riyadh made errors in prosecuting the fight?
But let’s not kid ourselves: The war is being driven by the Houthis, a radical Islamist terrorist organization that wants to take over Yemen and make the country a base camp for terror operations against the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, other moderate Middle Eastern countries, as well as Israel, and possibly the U.S. itself.
HOUTHI ATTACKS ON SAUDI ARABIA DOUBLED AFTER THE BIDEN DECISION
As I explain in my recent book, “Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East,” the Houthis are not only backed and funded by Tehran, they have launched more than 1,000 Iranian-made rockets and drones at Saudi cities in recent years, including the Saudi capital.
Though the Saudis have intercepted at least 872 of these drones and rockets, no American ally should simply have to play defense in such a situation.
The Houthi terrorists must be neutralized and the firing upon the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must end.
And it’s not just ballistic missiles and drones.
A new report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington states that there have been “4,103 Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia, within Yemen and against other targets, such as maritime targets, in the Gulf between January 1, 2016, and October 20, 2021,” and noting that “the Houthis are orchestrating an increasingly intense irregular warfare campaign against Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf using sophisticated cruise and ballistic missiles, UAVs, and other stand-off weapons.”
This line particularly drew my attention: “The number of Houthi attacks per month doubled against Saudi Arabia and other targets over the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.”
That’s right, doubled.
Immediately after Biden removed the Houthis from the terrorist list.
The CSIS study goes on to report that “Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force has provided the Houthis with training and a growing arsenal of sophisticated weapons and technology for anti-tank guided missiles, sea mines, explosive-laden UAVs, ballistic and cruise missiles, unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs), and other weapons and systems. The Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah have improved Houthi capabilities at a relatively low cost, especially compared to Saudi expenditures on air defense to protect its territory.”
The study’s conclusion: “The United States and its partners should conduct a more aggressive campaign to publicly highlight Iranian and Houthi actions and provide additional security assistance to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.”
I couldn’t agree more.
THE SAUDI PERSPECTIVE ON THE HOUTHIS
When I brought my first delegation of Evangelical leaders to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in November 2018, one of the senior officials we met with was Adel al-Jubeir, the soft-spoken but immensely influential foreign minister who entered the room wearing his traditional beige robe and a red- and white-checkered kaffiyeh wrapped by a double black cord.
After introductions, we asked him to respond to charges that the Saudi war in Yemen had created a humanitarian disaster and horrible human rights abuses.
For the next twenty minutes, he made the case that the Iranians, together with the Houthis, were responsible for the war and the disaster that had ensued. He said that efforts by Riyadh to bring about a diplomatic resolution to the crisis had been repeatedly rejected by the Houthis.
He underscored the fact that the Houthis continued to fire hundreds of ballistic missiles at Saudi civilian populations. While the Saudi military was doing a good job intercepting many of thess, he told us that the strikes had killed at least 112 Saudi civilians and wounded hundreds of others.
America, he insisted, should not allow an Iranian-backed terror force to attack one of its allies with impunity.
What’s more, he noted that the Saudis have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian relief for suffering civilians in Yemen. They have also repeatedly tried diplomatic initiatives to end the war. But the Houthis alternatively refuse to negotiate or to keep their word when they do make agreements.
What kind of message does it send to Iran – and the rest of the world – for Biden to blame an ally for a war, rather than the enemy?
WHAT IS THE UAE PERSPECTIVE?
On Monday, Houthi terrorists in Yemen attacked the United Arab Emirates with drones and ballistic missiles, targeting UAE oil facilities and the airport in the capital of Abu Dhabi.
The attacks “caused fires that resulted in three petroleum tanker explosions near state oil firm’s storage facilities,” reported CNBC. “The fires began in the industrial area of Musaffah and at a construction site near Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE capital….One Pakistani and two Indian nationals died as a result of the attacks. Six other people were injured and are being treated for mild and moderate injuries, authorities said Monday.”
“We condemn the Houthi militia’s targeting of civilian areas and facilities on UAE soil today,” the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement following the attacks. “We reiterate that those responsible for this unlawful targeting of our country will be held accountable. The UAE reserves the right to respond to these terrorist attacks and criminal escalation.”
“Monday’s attack was the latest in a series of provocative moves the Houthis have taken in recent months that have raised alarms from Washington to Riyadh,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “Earlier this month, the Houthis seized an Emirati-flagged ship off the Yemen coast that they have refused to release. In November, the militant force took control of the shuttered American Embassy in San’a, the Yemeni capital, and has rebuffed U.S. demands that they free several Yemenis who worked for the U.S. The Houthis have also detained two United Nations workers for more than two months.”
HOW THE ISRAELIS SEE THE HOUTHIS
When I interviewed Defense Minister Benny Gantz for “Enemies and Allies”, he too warned that Tehran was using its terrorist proxy forces like the Houthis to attack innocent civilians with impunity, and that they must be stopped.
“While I’m very respectful of the Iranian culture and the Iranian people, I’m very much worried about the Iranian regime,” Gantz told me, referring specifically to their determination to build, buy, or steal fully operational nuclear warheads.
“But it’s not only the nuclear aspect,” Gantz said. “It’s also the launcher capabilities, the missile capabilities, the regional aggression that we see them [supporting] different militias in Iraq and Syria, supporting the Houthis in Yemen. It all comes from this octopus—the Iranian octopus, I would say—which sends out its arms [in many directions].”
WHAT SHOULD BIDEN DO NOW?
Biden made a terrible mistake removing them from the terrorist list last year and removing sanctions on them.
That just emboldened Houthis and the Iranian regime that arms them.
It has also endangered key allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Enough is enough.
It’s time for Biden to stop appeasing the forces of radical Islamism.
Put the Houthis back on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.
Impose on them crippling new economic sanctions.
Stand firmly with the Saudis, Emiratis and other moderate Arab allies in the region.
Make the Houthis and the puppet masters in Tehran pay a terrible price – and do it immediately.
Or it’s all going to get worse.