Hodeidah, Iran, Washington and China
The decision to begin the battle for Hodeidah was a turning point on the path towards ending the war in Yemen. What was new this time was that the battle had needed political cover from the world’s major powers.
Those power centres had hesitated, prevaricated and imposed legal, political and humanitarian hurdles to delay a fight that is crucial to liberating Yemen.
The Hodeidah operation has exposed an inconsistent international mood towards Iran. Yemen is one of many areas in the Arab world that Tehran boasted of controlling. The administration of former US President Barack Obama considered Yemen one of the available spoils in the area in which there was an influence war between Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia and its allies on the other.
According to the famous "Obama doctrine," there was no option for Saudi Arabia but to “share influence with Iran” in Yemen.
A year ago, Hodeidah was a controversial topic in Washington, Paris and London. Those capitals polled Yemeni personalities and security, military and political experts about opinions concerning the liberation of Hodeidah and its port. Western diplomats listened carefully without giving the impression that the international mood was on the side of a military solution in Yemen. To further hide their game, Western capitals raised the spectre of a humanitarian crisis.
What happened to justify this political turnabout by the major powers? They are now, in one way or another, parties to the battle of Hodeidah, providing logistical and intelligence support. Having second thoughts and reservations was left to the humanitarian organisations.
In reality, the give-and-take over the battle of Hodeidah a year ago was not just in the West, it also took place behind closed doors among the Arab coalition. It looked as if Riyadh and its allies were sensitive to the commotion created at the UN Security Council, the reservations expressed by the major powers and fears of a major humanitarian crisis.
On the US side, the Obama administration was not happy when then Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir announced that Operation Decisive Storm had begun at dawn on March 25, 2015. The United States, of course, did not oppose the Saudi decision but also did not provide the support expected from an ally.
With President Donald Trump, the US approach to Yemen took a 180-degree turn, particularly regarding the US position on Iran.
The US administration has removed -- stone by stone -- the “containment wall” built around Iran by previous US administrations since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The concept of US strategic security has taken other dimensions such that Iran has become not only a threat to Washington’s allies in the Middle East but a direct threat to the United States’ strategic security.
Speaking at the Detroit Economic Club on June 18, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told of the relationship between foreign diplomacy and business growth in the United States. He said: “Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1790 that it was central for him to protect American trade in the Mediterranean and noted that it was suffering because North African pirates were attacking our commercial ships. A little different problem today but the theft of our stuff remains a central challenge for America.”
To Trump and his team, “America First” implies the use of US might worldwide. Pompeo goes even further: “President Trump’s strategy says that economic security is indeed national security. They are, as he has described it, synonymous.” It is clear that fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise of a US economic miracle will have to go hand in hand with using America’s might abroad.
Trump pulled his country out of the Iran nuclear deal and Pompeo listed conditions to forestall economic sanctions that can only be understood as a recipe for bringing down the Iranian regime. The demands for rehabilitating the famous deal were broad and incidental, relative to specific ones, which simply amount to a fundamental change in the political regime in Tehran.
Iran will never acquiesce to Pompeo’s conditions but Washington and a growing anti-Iranian current -- with, perhaps, Russia’s consent -- will not agree to leave Iran’s case alone in light of what has been achieved with North Korea.
Concerning Yemen, the United States now says Yemen’s sovereignty is the business of the Yemenis alone and that the country is a security backyard for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries so Iran has nothing to do there and there are no “spoils” to be negotiated.
The battle of Hodeidah is in line with the logic of liberating Yemen and the region from Iranian influence. The Yemeni people, Saudi Arabia and the Arab coalition have their own reasons for kicking out Iran from the area, as do Washington, Paris and London.
At the Detroit Economic Club, Pompeo stated: “If the US government does not participate in robust international economic engagement, we will lose out to places like China but we can never lose our economic sovereignty in doing so.”