The Arabs concerned with the new American administration’s policies under Donald Trump believe that its approaches are still in their early stages and are still ambiguous. Therefore, they are cautious towards them and are patient, as the bitter experience with the past Barack Obama administration is still fresh in their minds.
We are seeing more and more how negative it was, and some even consider it to be hostile on a number of occasions. It is enough that in the conflict with Iran, it either appeared to be neutral or preferred to please Tehran and remain silent in the face of its sabotaging interferences.
Referring back to the beginning of Obama’s term, who had publically announced, both as a candidate and president, his intention to reach a treaty with Iran, we see that he did not back down from this. He achieved the nuclear agreement and nothing more, maybe even less, as long as he obtained an expectation of political change.
Meanwhile, Iran used the negotiations and then the agreement to further exploit the Obama administration. Despite the fact that Obama was not comfortable with Saudi Arabia launching Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen, he was forced to show cooperation with the Arab coalition. He then tried to compensate Iran by means of his efforts to reach a political solution.
Meanwhile, since his election campaign, Trump has been expressing positions that he executed during his first week in the White House when he rejected the Iranian ballistic missile tests and warned Tehran. Then we witnessed indications in Syria and Iraq, and finally in Yemen, which prove that Donald Trump and his team are determined to resume a policy of containing and restricting Iran.
Therefore, observers say that the two clearest items in Trump’s strategy are absolute support for Israel and confronting Iran’s influence. Now, after the recent statements made by Secretary of Defence James Mattis, a third item could be reviving the old alliance with the Arabian Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia. This was expected, as no American administration could apply any strategy in the region without dealing with the Gulf states, either to end Iran’s expansion or to support Israel in activating the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis.
No Gulf state has asked President Trump, or President Obama before him, to wage a war against Iran, but rather to do what it can to stop it from interfering in the internal affairs of the Gulf states and force it to respect good neighbourliness. The Gulf states did not interfere in the nuclear negotiations because it stressed that any agreement should have a positive political impact on the region.
Due to the fact that what happened was the exact opposite, one of the following possibilities became likely. Either the escalated provocations in the Gulf and increased magnitude of intervention in Syria, Iraq and Yemen occurred against the will of the US administration at the time, or they occurred against the will of the Gulf.
However, the administration, in both cases, did not adopt the appropriate policies, at the very least demonstrating its understanding of the frustrations of its Gulf friends, as Mattis suggests that confronting the Iranian role will begin in Yemen.
Washington points out that it has re-analysed the reasons behind the war and its requirements, and that it will no longer reduce its positions towards the relationship between the Houthis and their weapons with Iran and to deter any border attacks on Saudi Arabia. America is encouraged to be this clear by the fact that Iran has actually lost in Yemen and the fight has almost been decided militarily. However, the militia mind-set is preventing the Houthis and their allies from giving in to the requirements for a political solution.
The US defence secretary was deliberate in the “Yemeni” messages he sent to Iran. The messages contained two main issues, the first of which concerned the missiles fired by the Houthis on Saudi territory, which may cost them dearly.
The second issue was his refusal to create a situation similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon. General Mattis is aware that the Houthi Ansar Allah movement is not very different from Hezbollah. It seems that he wanted to warn it that its future in Yemen is dependent on its disengagement from Iran.
Of course, this message is also directed at the deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters who may want to continue their alliance with the Houthis. The most important thing is that Trump’s administration, which insists on a political solution under the auspices of the United Nations, is not hiding its desire to help the “alliance” to end the conflict in Yemen in favour of legitimacy, that is in favour of the state, and it does not seem to be on the verge of opening a back channel with the Houthis. This is an important difference between the practices of the current and previous administration.
First published by The New Khaleej in Arabic, 25 April 2017.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.