International Affairs

Should Trump have a plan for Yemen?

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Before the highly publicized Navy SEAL raid in Yemen on Jan. 29th, President Donald Trump appeared on the “O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News Channel, where he mentioned that Iran “took over Yemen.” While it may seem that American foreign policy towards Yemen is only just starting to be crystallized — especially under the context of Iran’s interventionism in the region — it still seems that the issue of Yemen has not been clearly addressed when it comes to how it may concern the current U.S. administration and the west at large.

This may be primarily due to Arab intellectuals and journalists who were too localized in their approach to the subject, as well as how they deliver the message to western media. Often local outlets fail to explain the crisis from a global interest perspective, because of their sole focus on the negative effects that militias have on neighboring countries. In reality however, the instability in Yemen presents serious economic, strategic and security issues, especially for Europe and the United States.

{mosads}It is common knowledge today that Saudi Arabia formed and lead a coalition of 10 Arab countries to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi militias, who rebelled against Yemen’s legitimate government. It is also known that, via the UN Security Council Resolution 2216, Riyadh took active measures against these militias in favor of a more stable Yemen. Taking all of that into consideration, the question begs — what would have happened if Saudi Arabia had not responded to the cry for help made by the Legitimate Government of Yemen?


The simplest scenario would have been that the Houthi militias would have had Yemen under their total control, leading to endless violence, civilian casualties and civil war. They would have also been in control of one the most important maritime straits in the world: The Bab el-Mandab strait, which links the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

With the high probability that it would have fallen under the Iranian regime’s control, Yemen would have represented a direct threat to United States security and economic ties in the region. Some of the most compelling proof of this was given when, on multiple occasions, Houthis fired missiles towards U.S. military ships. America’s response was to target their missile launch sites.

Last week, I visited Saudi Arabia’s southern border and met with field leaders fighting to protect Saudi Arabian territory. I asked brigadier general number 18, General Nasser Al Ahmari, about the reason for the delay in the war’s resolution. He attested that even though the coalition is fully capable of resolving the war, it is not happening because of humanitarian considerations given to innocent Yemeni civilians. He added that about eighty percent of Yemeni territories were liberated and secured by the Yemeni army and coalition groups.

I then asked him to further elaborate on the latest developments regarding the political scene. His answer comes to no surprise that the issue is largely under the responsibility of politicians, but there are many current divisions among Houthis and the people supporting the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh. He added that the Yemeni army, together with coalition forces, are achieving daily tangible success by liberating seized territories and cities from militias control.

Addressing civilian casualties, he commented that no war is free of civilian casualties, and that the coalition would admit to any mistake made resulting in civilian casualties and compensate their families in case of such unfortunate circumstances. He also articulated how baffled he was about the lack of coverage by the International media about the impact Houthi militias and Saleh have made on civilians in terms of killing, displacement, the siege of cities, and the starvation of innocent Yemeni civilians.

When asked about the reason behind the systemic media attack against Saudi Arabia in regards to Yemen, General Al Ahmri’s responded with a single sentence: “Success has its enemies.”

I recently contacted the spokesman of the Saudi Ministry of Defense, Major General Ahmed Asseri, and asked him about what should concern the international community regarding Houthis. He began with the fact that Iran and Hezbollah have transferred Ballistic missile technology to Houthi militias, and that they have targeted the Kingdom several times. He continued to emphasize how such dangerous technology can become accessible to extremist groups, and how damaging that can be to the security and stability of the rest of the world.

According to Major General Asseri, the Arab coalition not only fights Houthi militias in Yemen, but continuously confronts the great threat of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is considered by the US government to be the most dangerous and most active branches of Al Qaeda. In fact, the coalition succeeded in freeing the capital of Hadramawt province, that was one of the most important cities once held under AQAP control.

Going back to the question of whether Trump should have a plan for Yemen, I think Trump and his administration are fully aware of Iran’s expansionary ambition in the region. This expansionism necessitates firm confrontation, as it significantly undermines U.S. political and security interests. Trump’s administration also has the task of overhauling the foreign policy that was formulated by the Obama administration for the region, which lacked firmness and decisiveness in regards to the confrontation of these militias.

Salman Al-Ansari is a Saudi political analyst and President of the DC-Based Saudi America Public Relation Affairs Committee. He can be found on Twitter at @Salansar1.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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