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Yemen, the Decision-Maker and the Proxy

Yemen, the Decision-Maker and the Proxy

Monday, 15 February, 2021 - 11:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Years ago in Paris, Abdel Halim Khaddam was defending the image of al-Assad the father as if he was defending his life and experience. His words caught my attention. He said that Hafez al-Assad used to make accurate calculations before getting involved in relationships… that he thought carefully about their outcome on Syria’s role and interests and was obsessed with preventing any regional or international party from taking control over his country’s decision-making.

I asked him about the relations with the Soviet Union, and he said that the latter provided arms to the Syrian army, as part of an alliance based on the balance between the interests of the two parties.

He stressed that the ally could express and defend his opinion and reject what violates his interests; whereas, the agent is just a tool, who is obliged to play roles that are not always for the best of his country. He gave the example of Mengistu’s role in Ethiopia.

Khaddam said that the Syrian regime did not fall in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union for many reasons, including that it was neither an agent nor a follower of the Soviet policy. He noticed that Assad was deliberately sending messages to the West through some Lebanese and regional channels, stating that talking to Damascus via Moscow was not the most feasible way, because the Syrian capital has its own voice and can be addressed directly.

Khaddam delved into the discussion about the decision-maker and the agent. He pointed out that the latter loses the last say, whether in determining his country’s fate or in making decisions of war and peace.

The story of the decision-maker and the proxy reminds us of several examples in our region. But the first thing that comes to mind is the developments in Yemen.

Despite the Joe Biden administration’s clear interest in stopping the war in Yemen, and taking some steps that it deems useful in this direction, the current round of escalation launched by the Houthis raises the abovementioned issue.

Calls are mounting for a peaceful solution to end the war in Yemen, based on a settlement that suits all parties. The concerned countries, led by Saudi Arabia, are showing a desire to support an adequate solution. However, the Houthis’ response does not change, which is an attempt to use the arsenal placed at their disposal to target civilian facilities in Saudi Arabia, such as Abha International Airport. It is as if the Houthis are reminding us that their role is limited to escalation, and that the parties seeking a solution must resort to another address, meaning Tehran.

More than ever, the situation in Yemen is crystallizing. The behavior of the Houthi leadership and the use of missiles and car bombs, explain in part why the Yemen war initially broke out. It erupted because a minority carried out a coup that overthrew the legitimacy, with the aim of turning Yemen into a focal point for Iran’s project aimed at surrounding the influential countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia.

The infiltration that took place in Yemen appeared to be an Iranian attempt to compensate for the failure of its attempt to surround Saudi Arabia through Bahrain. Observers of the course of military and political developments over the past six years realize that the Houthi proxy is pushing Yemen into a project that is beyond its ability to bear. The picture is really bleak. Yemen has an arsenal of missiles that exceeds the number of its universities, hospitals and clinics. It has ranks of young people who are led by poverty or misinformation into engaging in a war that only deepens the impasse in their country. The Houthi leadership has a handful of slogans that it raises and chants, without being aware of its lack of relevance to reality.

It is indeed a tragedy for the organization to chant “Death to America”, and forget that it does not inflict death on anyone but its own people. We recall here that Castro’s Cuba, which consolidated decades of hatred towards the “American enemy” and collected billions of dollars for assuming the role of the Soviet proxy, is now looking forward to better relations with the “enemy of the people” and demanding the removal of obstacles to better exchange and interaction.

Another example worth paying attention to. No one fought the Americans the way the Vietnamese people did. They achieved victory and forced the US forces to leave. And here they are the heirs of General Giab, waiting for opportunities to improve relations with the “Great Satan” and dreaming of investors and tourists. They also long for some military cooperation with America, so that they do not remain an easy prey, threatened to be swallowed up if the lust for control strikes the Chinese giant.

This is a different world. A world of interests, numbers, opportunities and improving people’s lives, not a world of hiding behind hollow slogans. Yemen, which is under the grip of the Houthi coup, does not in any way resemble Castro’s Cuba. It is not at all similar to the country of Ho Chi Minh. We will not detail all the differences. Castro was the leader of a revolution that made Cubans hopeful. His national legitimacy preceded any other characteristic. The role of agent came due to the necessities of the confrontation with America. The same can be said of the Vietnamese regime, which reunified the country.

The Houthis’ Yemen is something else. The primary reason for the current situation in the group’s assumption of the role of proxy in the Iranian agenda, which expanded its attack in the region, especially after the American army toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Yemen deserves a chance to catch a breath and ease the pain of war. This country needs to compensate for lost decades, and to overcome the disastrous effects of the Houthi adventure.

But the observers of the recent developments feel that the US special envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, will discover what his UN predecessor, Martin Griffiths, knew for certain: the purpose of the Houthi missiles is to speed up the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, and Washington’s return to the nuclear agreement.

Trying to discuss a solution with the proxy is a problem, but accepting a solution - the conditions of which were set by the decision-maker - is a tragedy.

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