By Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
8 April 2015
Iran has undoubtedly miscalculated badly by interfering in Yemen. It seems Tehran relied on the long-standing policy of Gulf nations to avoid direct confrontation and war in preference for dialogue and peace. It only expected statements condemning the Houthi action in Yemen, and not the operation launched by the Saudi-led coalition.
It appears that Iran had deluded itself that it could construct a new Persian empire after taking control of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Of course, it was aided in these grandiose dreams by hesitation in the Arab world and US stupidity in dealing with Iraq, which paved the way for the mullahs to occupy Baghdad. Similarly, they support the ruling regime in Damascus and back Hezbollah’s significant presence in Lebanon.
Iranian officials have openly boasted about their neo-imperialist designs. Ali Younesi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s adviser on Ethnic and Religious Minorities, stated recently: “Iran is an empire as it was historically. Its capital is Baghdad, which was the center of our culture and civilization throughout history.” This statement exemplifies the danger posed by Iran, particularly since it is expressed by a leading government official.
Just like any other state, Iran is entitled to protect and advance its interests. However, it is promoting a sectarian policy that is a dangerous mix of politics and religious beliefs. This has created deep-seated hatred and enmity across the region that is becoming increasingly difficult to overcome through negotiations.
Iran is without doubt an important regional player, as it has been for centuries, but it has to abide by international laws and respect the sovereignty of other nations, by not interfering in their internal affairs. The framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program reached in Lausanne is one attempt to ensure that Tehran plays within the rules.
Saudi Arabia, however, has somewhat preempted the Lausanne agreement by launching military action in Yemen, provoked by the Houthis’ arrival in Aden and targeting of the presidential headquarters, a move which violated all peaceful attempts to address their stated grievances.
Saudi Arabia has a special relationship with Yemen, and hosts 2 million Yemenis who remit billions home every year. The Kingdom and other Gulf nations have been the main supporters of Yemen for decades. It should therefore be clear to objective observers that Operation Decisive Storm is aimed squarely at restoring the legitimate government and ensuring a stable neighbour.
Arabs were in dire need of a significant event to restore their self-confidence and allow them to determine their own fate, particularly after the Houthis rejected the political overtures of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations. War is part of politics, but should always be a last resort.
An added headache for those seeking peace was the duplicity of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who sent his son Ahmad two days before Operation Decisive Storm to plea for the lifting of UN sanctions against him, which would allow him to travel and transfer money.
The Gulf nations made a mistake to trust him and grant him immunity under their protection. This is a man who clearly has not changed. He has shown time and again that he is not in any way remorseful for having run Yemen into the ground for decades, and is still only out for personal gain. The Arab world has had many such tyrants.
Decisive Storm has been an unprecedented success, having been painstakingly and calmly planned in secret by Saudi Arabia and its allies. There are clear conditions attached to the endgame here as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman outlined in his speech at the recent summit in Sharm Al-Sheikh: “We wish to hear the voice of reason from those who rebelled against the legitimate (government). We wish to see an end to the seeking of foreign support to bully and abuse the dear Yemeni people. We wish to see an end to the stoking of sectarian tensions and (the sowing) of seeds of terror.”
For the Houthis and others there is an opportunity emerging, to construct a modern state based on the rule of law. Arab nations, in turn, must play their part in rebuilding the country’s shattered economy, which would underpin this constitutional state.
This is an ambitious but achievable plan if reason prevails and there is an honest attempt by all Yemenis to seek a political solution for their problems. It is critically important for them to seize the opportunity.