The Hodeidah battle will reduce Houthis to their real size

What is needed in Yemen is more commonsensical awareness of the stakes involved.
Sunday 08/07/2018
High stakes. A forklift carries a shipping container at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, on June 24.(Reuters)
High stakes. A forklift carries a shipping container at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, on June 24.(Reuters)

There are two factors that can delay decisive military action in Hodeidah. The first is that a continuation of the war brings many profits to many parties inside and outside Yemen.

The second is that the Yemeni National Army and the Arab coalition must go along with the decisions of UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, who wants to give the Houthis a chance. However, that chance is nothing but room for manoeuvring offered to the Houthis and their backer, Iran.

Unfortunately for the Houthis, neither the Arab coalition nor the Yemeni armed forces are duped by the manoeuvre. They know that only a decisive military victory can bring the Houthis to reason but Griffiths remains a hurdle. He does not seem willing to learn from prior experiences with the Houthis, especially those of the few days following their takeover of Sana’a on September 21, 2014.

Griffiths, who is genuinely aware of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen, will soon realise that the Houthis are far from being people of their word and that the agreements they sign mean nothing to them. This is why it would be impossible to reach any lasting agreement with them.

To be convinced of that, look at how they reneged on the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA) they signed with other parties involved in the Yemeni conflict, including Interim President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, just after they had taken Sana’a. That agreement was signed under UN auspices represented by the then-Special Envoy Jamal Benomar. It is curious that the current envoy does not seem to remember that.

Before the ink of the PNPA was dry, the Houthis moved to place the interim president under house arrest and impose on Yemen their own version of the constitution. Hadi was rescued and smuggled to Aden.

If that is not enough to convince Griffiths not to trust the Houthis, how about what they did to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh? He had helped their movement grow, become their partner and signed agreements with them; yet they assassinated him. Are there any worse examples of betrayal?

There are no middle-ground solutions with the Houthis. Their claim of wanting to surrender Hodeidah Port only to the United Nations is a ploy to buy time. Even if placed under UN control, the port is vital to the Houthis. They want to remain in Hodeidah by any means so they can protect their interests.

What are these interests? They are nothing less than collecting taxes and fees on ships using the port and smuggling weapons from Iran.

The liberation of Hodeidah was a significant step in stopping Iran’s expansionist project. Hodeidah Port was vital to that plan. Otherwise, Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Lebanese Hezbollah, wouldn’t have declared that he was “ashamed of not being among the Yemeni fighters on [Yemen’s] western shores.”

He must have wanted to shore up the morale of the Houthis there but that won’t do. The truth is that Yemen is part of wider horizons and the loss of Hodeidah by the Houthis jeopardises Iran’s expansionist plans.

What’s important is that, contrary to what is happening with the UN envoy, the Arab coalition and the Yemeni Army are not duped by the Houthis’ ploy. Legitimacy will return to Hodeidah in due time and Griffiths, despite his best intentions, will soon discover that the Houthis are excellent pretenders. The poor fellows have no intention besides executing Iran’s wishes and Iran’s wish is to be a thorn in the side of every Gulf country.

Do the Houthis have a project for Yemen?

They had spoken of erecting new universities as if they could do that. Even if they did, their universities would be no better than the one founded by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani during the times of Saleh and that produced nothing but swarms of extremists obsessed with spreading discord all over the region.

What is needed in Yemen is more commonsensical awareness of the stakes involved. It is this same awareness that had led Operation Decisive Storm to deprive the Houthis of sea access. Without this awareness, Mukalla, Aden and Mocha would still be in the hands of the Houthis and the international sea lanes through Bab el Mandeb Strait in serious danger.

The UN special envoy’s humanitarian motives are understandable. It is, however, necessary to understand that there is no other way out for Yemen outside the current balance of power there. The Houthis are part of Yemen’s demographic make-up and nobody wants to exclude them.

It is, however, necessary to stop dealing with them as if they represent half or more of the Yemenis. The battle for Hodeidah Port means to reduce them to their real size.