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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 February 2019

West’s view of Yemen is altering

Gradually, western allies are starting to work out who is really driving the Yemen war
Houthi factions favour force over dialogue. Hani Mohammed / AP
Houthi factions favour force over dialogue. Hani Mohammed / AP

Ever since the Saudi-led coalition began operations against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, there have been mutterings of dissent from Gulf allies in the West. Stories have appeared in newspapers documenting the costs of war. But precious few have examined the reasons why members of the Saudi-led coalition would put their blood and treasure on the line for a conflict in a neighbouring country. That is a shame, because the reasons are compelling. The war in Yemen affects the whole Middle East and the West.

When Houthi rebels from Yemen’s north forced out president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi in 2015, they were not acting alone. They were backed by powerful groups inside the country loyal to the deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and by Iran. This last element is crucial. Yes, Mr Saleh appears to have ambitions to regain some control over the country and, if not return to the presidency, then at least choose who does. But Iran’s motives are worse.

The country is meddling in conflicts across the region, and always stoking them for the worse. In Yemen, Iran sees an opportunity to create a new Hizbollah and a toehold on the Arabian Peninsula. With no political or economic accomplishments of its own, Iran’s bid to stay relevant involves seeking to destabilise countries much richer and more advanced than it. The coalition was assembled to stop that happening.

Gradually that message is gaining traction in the West. Journalists and policymakers, while rightly concerned at the humanitarian crisis, are aware that Iran and the Houthis are the true cause of it. “The chief focus has to be on Iranian behaviour,” wrote The Times of London in an editorial last week, calling Iran “masters of disorder” and warning that coming elections in Iran may only bring more hardliners to power. This is welcome. Slowly – too slowly, in our opinion – the West is coming to the understanding that the Houthis do not want real dialogue.

Nobody wants the war in Yemen to continue, not least fellow Arabs. But since the Houthis know only how to wage war, they must somehow be forced back to the table to talk peace.

Updated: April 30, 2017 04:00 AM

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