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The Houthis and Booby-Trapped Role

The Houthis and Booby-Trapped Role

Monday, 24 January, 2022 - 11:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

It was natural for the Arab League to condemn the recent Houthi attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Making public violations and missile attacks against other countries’ airspace a common practice is a consolidation of an extremely dangerous terrorist behavior that threatens regional stability.


If the militias succeeded in destroying the maps, taking advantage of cracks in some countries, missiles and drones are used in the airspace in an attempt to achieve the same goals.


Respecting international borders is a condition for stability. Europe only got out of the cycle of violence and blood when it took a strict decision to respect international borders, refer any disagreement to the courts, and refrain from using force to settle disputes. One of the conditions for stability is accessing countries through their legitimate entrances and with the knowledge of their authorities, and refraining from pumping weapons and money into resentful groups looking for an opportunity to shatter their societies or overturn established balances.


Nothing gives any country the right to violate international borders and to seep into the internal equation of any country under ethnic, sectarian, or ideological pretexts.


There is no public disagreement over the principles that are supposed to govern stability in the world. The problem begins with the absence of institutions that can ensure respect for principles and deter those who try to break them.


The problem turns into a tragedy when a prominent regional state or a major country deliberately unleashes destabilizing winds, citing the existence of grievances, fears, or legitimate rights.


The world has witnessed experiences that revealed the inability of international and regional institutions to confront powers that resort to force in open contempt for international law and covenants.


Would the current Ukrainian crisis have reached this scale if the United Nations took action years ago to control Russian greed or the Ukrainian “provocations” that Moscow is talking about? Would the Houthi attacks have reached this extent if the Arab League had acted effectively years ago when it was obvious that the Houthis were employed in a coup program led by Iran in the region?


The recent Houthi attacks reminded me of the words of late President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa at the end of the first decade of this century. Saleh was an accomplished player, whose long stay in power gave him experience in not rushing to open trouble. That was in March 2010, as he was preparing to go to Libya to participate in the periodic Arab summit scheduled there.


He did not decide to boycott the summit despite his accusation of Muammar Gaddafi of supporting the Houthis, and his assertion that the Yemeni security services had seized part of the financial aid sent by the Libyan leader for this purpose. Saleh was confident that Gaddafi’s stance was part of his revenge practices since he was hit by the “Saudi complex.”


Ali Abdullah Saleh used to raise an issue without going into its details to avoid expanding the circle of hostilities. For example, he told the newspaper that the Yemeni authorities noticed that Houthis’ tactics were “close to those of Hezbollah” and that Houthis received training from members of the party, “but perhaps without the knowledge of the party leadership.” Saleh avoided escalating the situation with Iran, despite his knowledge of what General Qassem Soleimani was doing in the Yemeni part of his mission.


During that meeting, I asked the late president where the Houthis were getting weapons and training from, and he replied: “First, we should know that the Yemeni market was full of weapons as a result of the remnants of previous wars, whether in the 1970s with the Imamites and they were stored by some arms dealers, or the remnants of the summer of 1994, and there was a store of weapons that the tribes took over during the war of separation. The Houthis had money, which they collected from local or regional donations, and from supporting figures... You can say that their support came from the advocates of the new project, the so-called new school of thought - the Twelvers in Yemen, instead of the Zaidi or Shafii School. They received donations from parties or associations in regional countries and bought weapons… Arms were also smuggled to the Houthis by sea from arms dealers and regional powers as well, who were helping them promote their own agenda.”


I asked Saleh whether the Houthi problem was part of a Sunni-Shiite conflict, and he replied: “No, it is not a Shiite-Sunni conflict, but rather it can be said that it is the promotion of a new doctrine in the region, to trouble Yemen, the region or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular, and to deliver messages from small or large regional countries that had a role in this regard.”


Off-air, Ali Saleh was wondering what Lebanon would gain from getting involved in these issues. The Yemeni president had a report saying that the Houthis were infiltrating Lebanon from Syria without having their passports stamped, to receive training in the Lebanese Bekaa. He was also questioning Syria’s interest in allowing such practices across its territory.


The arsenal of the Houthis today is different from what it was at the end of the first decade of this century. Despite the passing of years, Ali Saleh’s words help in understanding the beginnings of the problem; of course, without forgetting that the late president himself did not refrain from adopting the extravagant method of political maneuvering, which has exorbitant costs.

The Houthi arsenal has certainly enriched over the years, multiplying the sufferings of Yemen, causing horrific losses and pushing the country into a clash with its natural surroundings.


The Houthi arsenal, as well as the Houthi role, are greater than Yemen’s ability to bear. Yemen needs development, job opportunities, schools and vaccinations… It does not need to launch its air militia against other people’s maps. The Houthi role was initially booby-trapped and quickly exploded in Yemen, with the aim to extend the fire to the maps of others.


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