U.S. Diplomat reveals offers for Houthis to end alliance with Iran

U.S. Diplomat reveals offers for Houthis to end alliance with Iran

U.S. Special Envoy to Iran Brian Hawke has revealed that Tehran is seeking to participate in peace negotiations and his country's efforts to find a political solution and a comprehensive agreement in Yemen, ending the war that Iran instigated.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is playing a long game in Yemen and few in the world seem to have noticed. With Iran’s patronage, the Houthis—a Shiite political movement—carried out a coup in 2014, plunging the country into chaos. Iran’s support elevated the Shia Houthis from a tribal militia to a lethal fighting force. Now, the Iranian regime wants a seat at the negotiating table to help resolve a war it helped instigate.

Whatever the ultimate outcome in Yemen, Iran has successfully expanded its threat network and positioned itself as a power broker in the Arabian peninsula. Tehran has been using this playbook for decades. In the early 1980s, Iran began supporting various Shia extremist groups in Lebanon. The Iranian regime systematically scaled up its assistance and assembled the most violent factions into a cohesive military organization, which eventually called itself Hezbollah.

During the 1990s, Iran cemented its influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah. The Iranian regime provides the militant group with 70% of its operating budget, precision rockets and small arms, and a steady stream of military experts. Hezbollah’s military prowess enabled it to become a state within a state, which, in turn, enabled Iran to extend its own borders, export Shia revolution, and target Israelis and Americans. Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group other than al Qaeda.

Today, the parallels in Iran’s approach to Yemen are unmistakable. As it did in Lebanon four decades ago, Iran is using Yemen to increase its status as a regional power. Iranian assistance has allowed the Houthis to challenge the authority of the Yemeni government in ways that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Iran has provided the Houthis with hundreds of millions of dollars and an arsenal of advanced weaponry. Antiship missiles, explosive-laden boats and mines have poured into Yemen, thanks to Mr. Khamenei. The United Arab Emirates has seized Iranian-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, in Yemen. On a recent visit to the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, I toured warehouses of clearly marked Iranian weapons interdicted en route to the Houthis.

Iran’s strategic alliance with the Houthis allows them to target Gulf nations at will with missile and UAV attacks, and to inspire, organize, and direct militant separatist groups in Saudi Arabia’s provinces. The Houthis have launched Iranian-origin missiles at population centers such as Riyadh, hundreds of miles away.

For decades, Iran has threatened freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. Its alliance with the Houthis now allows Iran to threaten ship traffic in the Bab el-Mandeb strait, which is the gateway to the Red Sea, Suez Canal and, ultimately, the Mediterranean. Between them, these straits carry as much as a quarter of the world’s oil supply. Give Iran a free hand in Yemen and it can threaten to close both of these essential waterways and commit acts of maritime aggression. In March 2016, the Houthis launched multiple missile attacks at the USS Mason as it cruised the Bab el-Mandeb strait.

In Yemen today Iran is effectively extending its borders, enlarging its sphere of influence, and launching lethal attacks against rivals. From its new perch on the Gulf of Aden, Iran can threaten U.S. allies and partners in the region and disrupt the stability that we have worked so hard to achieve.

If the U.S. fails to address Iran’s grand strategy in Yemen, we will face greater risk in the future, including the potential “Lebanonization” of the country. In fact, newly declassified information shows that Hezbollah is actively supporting the Houthi cause in Yemen, bringing Iran’s proxy network full circle. By controlling and deploying groups like the Houthis and Hezbollah, Tehran can conduct warfare through indigenous third parties in multiple theaters simultaneously.

The Trump administration is focused on reversing Iran’s strategic gains in the region as part of the “maximum pressure” campaign. In Yemen, this requires a comprehensive political agreement bringing together all legitimate parties to end the humanitarian crisis and prevent Iran from laying deep roots.

Iran has no legitimate interests in Yemen. The Houthis have little to gain and a lot to lose by continuing their partnership with Iran. The Houthis can either support a genuine political effort for peace in Yemen and enjoy the benefits—or continue to promote violence and advance Iran’s regional ambitions. The former will bring legitimacy and a seat at the table; the latter will lead to isolation and prolong the suffering of the Yemeni people.

The media has done a poor job of reporting on Iran’s role in intensifying and prolonging the tragic conflict in Yemen. This has allowed Iran to escape blame for the violence, famine and human suffering, which have become the Iranian regime’s leading exports. The U.S. government is shedding light on Iran’s culpability and its hegemonic aims. As we strive to constrain Iranian expansion in Lebanon, Syria, the Golan Heights, and Iraq, we must also prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Yemen. The world must come to terms with Iran’s ambitions and counter them, or the Iranian Crescent will soon enough become a full moon.


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