More than an angle to look at Aden airport blasts

The Houthi attack has reflected Iran’s posturing ahead of the US president’s inauguration. It has also betrayed incompetence in the ranks of Yemen’s “legitimacy” government.

Thursday 31/12/2020
People run for cover after the Houthi attack at the airport in Aden, Yemen, Dec. 30, 2020. (AP)
People run for cover after the Houthi attack at the airport in Aden, Yemen, Dec. 30, 2020. (AP)

The Houthi attack on Aden airport at the arrival of members of the new Yemeni government, can be viewed from two angles. One angle is the continuous Iranian onslaught  on more than one front in the region before US President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House. The second angle is the lack of competence, in any shape or form, of Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, or the “legitimacy” government.

The attack on the airport in southern Yemen’s capital, at this particular time, cannot be isolated from Iran’s endeavour to show the incoming US administration that it is present in the region and that its presence is quite significant. Moreover, Iran wants to prove that the US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration have not affected its regional posture nor its behaviour outside its borders.

On the contrary, Iran wants to show that it is still present in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and that its presence in these four countries is both offensive and deeply-rooted. Its talk about controlling four Arab capitals, it aims to say, is based on reality and on real facts.

Most of all, it intends it as a non-negotiable presence that could be part of a new deal wherewith the Biden administration accepts to breathe  life into the Iranian nuclear deal signed during the summer of 2015 by Tehran with the Group of Five plus one.

The thrust of the message is that Iran will not enter any negotiations with the new US administration regarding its nuclear file from a weak position and under new conditions that would include the removal of its ballistic missiles.

This appears to be the view from Tehran after the Trump administration revealed that Iran is no more than a paper tiger, which is unable to respond directly to the US killing of Qassem Soleimani.

The “Islamic Republic” seeks to say that the first anniversary of the assassination of the commander of the “Quds Force” of the Iranian “Revolutionary Guard” will not pass without a response.

It is true that the response will not take the form of a direct confrontation with the United States, but it is also true that there are Iranian proxies that are able to perform this task in the best way, as evidenced by the Houthi missile attack on Aden airport and then the bombing of the Al Maashiq area where members of the new Yemeni government have moved.

It is noteworthy that Iran is in an offensive posture in Iraq as well. We see it exerting all kinds of pressure on the government of Mustafa al-Kadhimi, while pretending that it is keen not to target diplomatic missions in Baghdad, including the US embassy.

These Iranian pressures on Iraq not only include the moves by the “Popular Mobilisation Forces”, which wants to prove that it is the most powerful faction in the country, but there are also threats to stop supplying Iraq with gas as well if it does not settle unpaid bills in the hard currency from which Iran has been deprived.

There is no need to mention also the issue of Lebanon, a country that has become an Iranian hostage, nor the Iranian deployment in Syria through sectarian militias of several stripes, including “Hezbollah”.

As to the second angle through which one can look at what happened at Aden airport, it is possible to say that all that was mentioned about Iran and its role in Yemen does not exempt the Yemeni “legitimacy” government from responsibility for what happened.

This legitimate government, headed by the transitional president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, showed an inability to deal with the complexities of the Yemeni situation, on the one hand, and to understand the Houthi phenomenon with its Iranian dimension, on the other.

It is difficult to fathom how the new Yemeni government could move to Aden from Riyadh without proper precautions, including keeping the date of its arrival flight secret.

This government has shown it is made up of amateurs in politics and security matters, and it is a caricature of the character of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was supposed to have made Aden his place of residence a long time ago.

But the question is, how can the transitional president reside in Aden and manage the confrontation with the Houthis from there, while he cannot even go to his hometown in the nearby Abyan governorate?

The most dangerous aspect revealed by the attack on Aden airport is the inability to understand the Houthi phenomenon and the lack of any intelligence about the reality of what “Ansar Allah” militias are concocting while continuing to fire their rockets at Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi kingdom has found itself in a self-defensive posture since the fall of Sana’a to Iran on September 21, 2014. Among the reasons for that fall was the person of the transitional president who believed at a certain stage that he could use the Houthis in a game aimed at settling scores with Ali Abdallah Saleh, on the one hand, and asserting his ability to manoeuvre vis-a-vis the Muslim Brotherhood, including his deputy Ali Mohsen Saleh al-Ahmar, on the other hand. .

In the end, it became clear that the Houthis had infiltrated the “legitimacy”, while there was no infiltration by the “legitimacy” camp of those who call themselves “Ansar Allah”. It is clear that no political or military victories over the Houthis will be possible with this kind of “legitimacy” government, which needs, before anything else, to be reconfigured.

The attack on Aden airport demonstrated a reality that could no longer be ignored. It is not possible to enter into a confrontation with the Houthis, who are nothing but an Iranian tool, with this type of “legitimacy” in place.

There is need for a different approach to the Yemeni issue, one that takes into account that there a major change is required in the balance of power in the event negotiations with the Houthis are to take place one day to force them to dismantle the state they have established and which has turned into an Iranian base, and nothing else.

Successive events confirmed that the existing “legitimacy” could not, on any given day, win any battle with “Ansar Allah”. One knows who drove them out of Aden and the strategically located port of Mocha. What is not known is how the void, made starkly clear after what happened in Aden, came to be filled.