If the US and UK thought that attacking the Houthis in war-torn Yemen was a good idea, you have to wonder just where are they getting their advice from when it comes to global foreign policy. Having blundered into Afghanistan with the stealth of a cigarette-smoking drunk hunting for a gas leak, and having fled from Iraq with tails between their legs after their disgraceful, illegal war, to then go on and encourage Ukraine to poke a stick at the Russian bear, you’d think that Washington and Westminster would realise there’s a dangerous trend developing here.
Using the hindsight of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, there’s little wonder that the Domesday Clock remains at 90 seconds to midnight because of the recklessness of US President “Genocide Joe” Biden, his predecessors and the latest willing sidekick in the State Department, Antony Blinken, teamed with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his own vanilla foreign secretary (and former PM) David Cameron. They hardly have the stature of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, although when they saddle up for business their heartless actions can — and do — result in pestilence, death, famine and war.
Representing the world’s so-called greatest democracies, this witless quartet has bypassed any political debate to bomb Yemen because the Houthi movement which actually runs the country is attacking ships connected in any way to Israel in the Red Sea while lobbing their missiles and drones at the apartheid state. Biden and Sunak have also turned their own navies into huge sitting ducks for the ambitious Houthis to aim at.
I may well get into trouble for saying this (because the Houthis are a proscribed terror organisation in Britain) but they are currently riding high in the popularity stakes across the Middle East souks, having restored a sense of national pride among millions of Yemenis by actively supporting the Palestinians in Gaza.
The whole exercise is an effort to invoke Article 8 of the Genocide Convention and push Israel to end its military offensive against Gaza.
“This, combined with growing support from other political groups within Yemen, and in the region, mean attacks will not likely end soon — despite sustained US airstrikes against them,” observed Jamestown Foundation fellow and a co-founder of Red Sea Analytics International (RSAI) Michael Horton wryly.
That’s the expert’s view, but according to Lord Cameron, displaying as much clarity as thick pea soup, the latest strikes against Houthis send the “clearest possible message” that they must stop attacking ships in the Red Sea. The foreign secretary then bizarrely and without a hint of irony stated that the UK has “no quarrel” with the Yemeni people, but Britain and the US want to show that “we back our words and our warnings with action.”
Since 13 January, at least eight missions have been flown against targets in Houthi-controlled north-west Yemen. This followed multiple warnings by Washington for the Houthis to end their attacks on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden because it was upsetting the genocidal Israelis who’ve killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, and wounded countless more through indiscriminate bombing, shelling and shooting.
The reaction from the Houthis means that the US is facing an indefinite period of air strikes whilst expanding the target list. This may degrade some of the Houthis’ military capacity, albeit slowly, especially their ability to launch anti-ship missiles, but it will do little to stop the groups’ use of one-way attack drones (OADs) and mines to target ships.
For those who aren’t aware, the Houthis have recently emerged from a two-decade war which killed 300,000 Yemenis and precipitated a humanitarian crisis before they solidified their grip on power in a country where the majority of the people regard them as the leaders of the state. They are not war-weary, they’re battle-hardened and are not afraid to take on the West. Truth be told, they already have an axe to grind with Washington and London, because the Yemen civil war was exacerbated by the two outside powers which backed the Saudi government and the UAE, while Iran has supported the Houthis.
The British military establishment got the idea, without giving it much thought, obviously, that this latest round of Western bombs would be welcomed by Yemenis, despite it being bombs with “Made in Britain” stamped on them that were used to kill thousands of Yemeni men, women and children, and usher in an unprecedented famine in which 50,000 innocent children perished in 2017. So why on earth would the US and UK think that the Yemenis would welcome even more Western air strikes? The net result of this utter foolishness is that Biden, Sunak and Co are strengthening the Houthis’ grip on power, and propelling them into a popular position of threatening global shipping for the next few years.
It is a fact that the Houthis have never been so popular, and as Yemen’s former press secretary for the Yemeni presidency and Advisor to the Yemeni Minister of Information pointed out recently on X, support for Palestine and Gaza from the country is unprecedented. Millions have participated in protests in solidarity with the Palestinians. This is the sort of support that Biden and Sunak can only dream about in advance of their respective forthcoming elections.
As the press officer pointed out: “It is Yemen, which not only went out and mobilised, but did what no one could do, which was to close the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red and Arabian Seas in front of Zionist ships or any ship going to the Zionist terrorist entity.”
The Houthi attacks are clearly onto an election winner with this. Their action resonates not only with many Yemenis, but also with millions of people around the world who are also calling out Israel’s genocidal war being waged against the Palestinians in Gaza. It would seem, therefore, that the Houthis can well and truly claim the moral high ground. According to Horton, the power of that narrative, regardless of its veracity, should not be underestimated.
The Houthis’ determination to lift the siege of Gaza 1,000 miles away is of course replete with irony given that some opposition figures and traditional tribal enemies within Al-Islah Party are contemplating making peace. This will give the Houthis much more legitimacy than any foreign power could deliver from the West. Just as the Taliban could not have risen to power without popular support brought about by Western incompetence, we see the same thing happening in Yemen.
The Western allies who supplied weapons to help Saudi Arabia and the UAE fuel the war in Yemen once again find themselves on the losing side. And they’re not alone: the Saudis and the UAE sunk hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, arms and training for the various armed groups aligned with the internationally-recognised government of Yemen — in exile in Riyadh — and have virtually nothing to show for their efforts.
The exiled government, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Tariq Saleh’s National Resistance Forces (NRF) are also finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Given overwhelming public opinion across the Middle East, how can they condemn Israel’s genocide on the one hand, while criticising Houthi Red Sea attacks on the other?
Saudi Arabia has virtually given up supporting its various proxies and, in exchange it seems, the Houthis have stopped targeting the Kingdom with drones and missiles. Instead of pouring more money into the black hole to fund an endless war in Yemen, Riyadh is returning to its tried-and-tested policy of appeasement, tribal engagement and the cultivation of long-term assets in its southern neighbour.
Endemic corruption and incompetence among the Houthis’ domestic enemies, more than any other factor, contributed to their rise to power in the first place. Like the US-installed puppet government which failed in Kabul, the inability of the Riyadh-based government-in-exile to deal with corruption, including the illegal arms trade, consistently serves to undermine its authority.
Perhaps one day Britain and America will stop making allies with corrupt regimes, or even creating them. The blow-back, which is inevitable, is always embarrassing and has direct consequences back home. At the moment, Houthis and their supporters consider themselves as the victors over Saudi and the UAE, and are now adding the US and the UK to their growing trophy collection.
The Houthis might be rough, tough and uncompromising when it comes to human rights in their own backyard, but the genocidal actions of Israel upon the babies and children of Gaza are red lines for them. They have made it clear their actions are targeting Zionist-supporting shipping in the Red Sea as a show of solidarity with Hamas and the Palestinians. The movement’s leaders have said that they will stop their attacks in the Red Sea the moment Israel declares a ceasefire. If the Zionist state had any sense it would do so right now. And if its Western allies had any nous they too would stop bombing Yemen and instead slap down Israeli nihilism.
The actions of the West are yet another own-goal in a long list of self-defeating blunders which have alienated and disgusted the Global South. Moreover, the old “win hearts and minds” routine will not work. The days of imperial carrots and sticks have long gone. In fact, aid from the US and UK is now more often viewed with great suspicion as a poisoned chalice rather than a blessing.
Not only are Britain and America, and parts of Europe, laughing stocks in the Middle East, but great leadership and statesmanship and respect for history are also lacking, woefully so. And Yemen has a rich history and military reputation to consider. The ancestors of today’s fighters fought off the ferocious Ottoman Turks many times, along with the Egyptians and, more recently, the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh as well as the Saudis.
“The Houthi rebels have been at war with the Yemeni government almost constantly since 2004. In the first six years, the Houthis fought an increasingly effective guerrilla war in their mountainous home provinces, but after 2010, they metamorphosed into the most powerful military entity in the country, capturing the three largest cities in Yemen,” wrote Michael Knights, the author of The Houthi War Machine: From Guerrilla War to State Capture.
“The Houthis quickly fielded advanced weapons they had never before controlled, including many of Iranian origin. The story of how they moved from small-arms ambushes to medium-range ballistic missiles in half a decade provides a case study of how an ambitious militant group can capture and use a state’s arsenals and benefit from Iran’s support.”
I despair as I watch David Cameron’s shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East along with that of third-rate Secretary of State Blinken. It’s clear that these two lightweights are barrelling into another never-ending conflict because of their unconditional friendship with Israel, which remains the biggest threat to world peace in the 21st century.
Mitigating the threat to global trade posed by the Houthis will take years of careful engagement, whereas ending the threat posed by Israel can be brought about simply by ordering a “ceasefire”. I can’t for the life of me understand why it is so difficult for Western politicians to reach that conclusion. Until they do, though, and act upon it, millions of us will continue to protest and march every weekend until the people we elected start to sit up and take notice.
In the meantime, all we can do is ask this simple question: who on earth is advising the US and UK governments on foreign policy? Whoever it is, they should be sacked.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.