What do Yemenis think of Iran?

US Foreign Policy: Beat Yemen, Mine Iran

Appeals like the one made by Mark Lowcock on Thursday to the outgoing US administration to revise its decision not to put the Yemeni Ansarallah - better known as the Houthi rebels - on two US terrorist lists as a "foreign terrorist" have little chance of success Organization "and as a" Specially Designated Global Terrorist "group. The figures for Lowcock, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), are dramatic: around 50,000 people in the war-land of Yemen are already affected by a real famine - many of them will die -, 16 million are starving, five Millions are just a step away from that.

The Houthis control about a third of Yemeni territory with about 20 million inhabitants, including the capital Sanaa - almost six years after a Saudi-led military coalition entered the war against them. The Houthis, originally rebels with local significance in northern Yemen, took over Sanaa in autumn 2014, and in March 2015 they threatened to overrun the entire south of Yemen, including Aden.

Not a good word can be said about the Houthis: They are a fanatical Islamist gang of criminals who carry "Death to the Jews" in their banner and terrorize their own people. They did not appear as an international or global terrorist organization. Naturally, Saudi Arabia sees things differently: The Houthis regularly bombard Saudi territory with rockets - although the Saudi war in Yemen is mainly fought from the air and far too many civilian targets are hit.

No exceptions

"Against the advice of practically everyone who work in the humanitarian, economic and diplomatic fields on Yemen," writes the International Crisis Group (CG), the US step, which is to come into force on the day before Joe Biden's inauguration, is taking place. This practically isolates the area held by the Houthis. There are also critical voices in the US Congress, because exceptions and licenses for aid organizations active in Yemen, but also for the import of food and other essential goods by the private sector, have not yet been worked out. This is all the more astonishing as the listing of the Houthis as a terrorist organization is a project that the US State Department has been working on for a long time.

The decision is likely to have two main thrusts: Firstly, the incumbent Biden government is once again left with facts that make it difficult for it to start and adopt its own political line. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently shooting new measures from the State Department at high speed, which his successor, Anthony Blinken, must first get a grip on. Taking an organization like the Houthis off the terrorist list is politically sensitive. Washington will therefore have to deal primarily with mitigating the humanitarian consequences.

Second - and above all - the new measures against the Houthis are also part of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" policy against Iran. It has not achieved the desired results, now a few more stakes should be driven.

Sanction machinery

New sanctions against Iranian organizations and persons, but also against organizations and persons associated with Iran in Iraq are the order of the day. Pompeo has also increased the number of arguments by comparing the relationship between Tehran and Al Qaeda with the one that Afghanistan under the Taliban had with the terrorist organization Osama bin Laden: an operative terrorist coalition. Or in the case of the Iraqi Shiite militia leader Abdul-Aziz al-Mohammadawi (alias Abu Fadak): US sanctions against him are understandable, the US claim that he was supposed to have worked with the "Islamic State" in Iraq is not.

The unusually strong Israeli air strikes in two Syrian cities, Deir al-Zor and Bukamal, the latter on the border with Iraq, also belong in the context of the pressure on Iran. Among other things, warehouses are said to have been hit in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shiite militias had housed rockets. Iran should be prevented from using the US transitions to establish itself even more in Syria. The increased Israeli pressure can also be felt in Beirut, which is repeatedly overflown by Israeli fighter jets and drones.

So far there are no signs that Iran is having an effect. It is also not to be expected that the Yemeni Houthis will be able to distance themselves from Tehran and give in. On the contrary, the dependency will continue to grow. And a revolt of the exhausted population against the Houthis is not to be expected either.

The Yemen mantra

The trust of the people in the Houthi areas in the internationally recognized government of Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, which is completely dependent on Saudi Arabia, is also low. Like a mantra it has been repeated for years that without the involvement of the Houthis or the Zaidis - the religious group to which they belong and which makes up at least 30 percent of the Yemeni population - no end to the war is possible. (Gudrun Harrer, January 15, 2021)