- - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Yemen is in its third year of a civil war that started in March 2015, pitting Houthi rebels against the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, which is backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition consisting of Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The war began after Houthi rebels seized parts of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. More than 7,600 people have died in the fighting plus a serious cholera outbreak has infected more than 300,000.

The new element in this civil war is the introduction of Iran, which is backing the Shiite Houthi rebels with direct material and personnel support. With Iran already deeply involved in both the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars, why would Iran involve itself in the Yemeni civil war? It is all part of expanding the Iranian crescent to become the dominant power in the Middle East. By establishing itself in Yemen, it completes not only the encirclement of Saudi Arabia but also control of the strategic Bab-al-Mandab Strait, where more than one-third of the world’s oil supply passes on a daily basis. It would also mean Iran’s de facto control of the Suez Canal.

Such control would directly challenge U.S. core interests in the Middle East and, therefore, justifies our involvement in the Yemeni crisis. Our interests in Yemen reflect our overall strategic concerns throughout the Middle East, which are:

• Preventing Iran’s Middle East hegemony objectives, which include controlling the entire Arabian Peninsula with its oil and gas resources, as well as Islam’s two most holy cities, Mecca and Medina. Implicit in this objective is Iranian regime change.

• Ensuring freedom of the seas by preventing Iran from controlling the Strait of Hormuz as well as ending Iran’s Houthi proxy threat to the Bab-al-Mandab Strait and de facto control of the Suez Canal. Recent anti-ship missile and mining attacks by the Houthis illustrate the gravity of this threat.

• Eliminating terrorists in the region who threaten U.S. objectives. This includes not only the Islamic State, but al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

• Continuous support of U.S. alliances that President Trump forged with Sunni allies during his historic May 2017 visit to Riyadh.

There has been a well-coordinated international propaganda campaign led by Iran’s Washington lobbyists and the leftist mainstream media with the main theme that Saudi Arabia, backed by the United States, regularly carries out airstrikes against civilians, including children. It has been estimated that more than 7,600 civilians have been killed and 42,000 wounded, most of them attributed to Saudi airstrikes. However, information gathered by the U.N. human rights office shows apparent indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations by both sides in the conflict. Further complicating the situation is the fact that Yemen is on the brink of a famine.

To set the record straight, Saudi Arabia has been and continues to be the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to Yemen. It has provided more than $274 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen through U.N. agencies. Further, Saudi Arabia has established the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid to facilitate and coordinate relief efforts in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has recently announced it will donate an additional $267 million in aid. The Salman Center just donated another $10 million to the International Red Cross.

It should also be noted that Saudi Arabia has allowed Yemenis who illegally enter the Kingdom to become legal residents. This status gives them access to medical care, education and work opportunities. More than 600,000 have migrated to the kingdom.

This year, the Saudi coalition announced the formation of a “high-end independent commission” to look into the coalition’s conduct of actions in Yemen, including rules of engagement involving civilians. The coalition has also established a hotline with Doctors Without Borders to help protect their facilities and staff. The Saudi Coalition also developed a list of 4,800 sites with coordinates not to be targeted. However, none of these efforts will satisfy the leftist media or leftist elements on the U.N. Human Rights Council who want yet another independent group to review the situation in Yemen.

Regrettably, more than 1,100 children have been killed in the Yemeni civil war, while some as young as 10 years old have been recruited by the Houthi rebels to fight. Recruiting children in Yemen to fight is nothing new. It is a way of life and has gone on for decades.

The disinformation program has been fairly successful. For example, ill-informed officials like Sen. Bob Corker believe that choking off arms to the Saudi coalition and denying other assistance and training will contribute to the end to the war. The same theme is pushed by the United Kingdom, France and others by their left-wing politicians and media. What this will do, however, is help Iran achieve one of its major goals — total control over the flow of oil.

In order to hasten the end of the Yemeni civil war, the following actions should be taken:

• Continue providing arms and on-ground advice, such as targeting intelligence and close air support training for the Saudi coalition air forces.

• Set up a blockade in Yemeni waters to interdict arms smuggling by Iran.

• Develop plans to assist the Saudi coalition to retake the port of Hodeida. Such action will isolate southern Houthi rebel forces from their bases in the highlands. It will also facilitate the recapture of the capital and its airport. Further, it would be a tremendous psychological blow to the rebels and Iran.

• James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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