Iran has given up trying to hide its malevolent role in Yemen. It had long denied it was giving arms and ammunition to the Houthi rebels. The evidence to the contrary was damning. But this week the state news agency in Tehran admitted that the country had supplied missiles to the insurgents. This admission was significant. The Iranians knew that the missiles had been fired across the border into the Kingdom. They were therefore confessing to being complicit in an attack on Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s interference in the Arab world has reached a new pitch. This week Tehran allowed the Russian air force for the first time to launch airstrikes in Syria from an Iranian air base. The timing of the missile attack on the Saudi armed forces is significant. It came during a cease-fire and UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait. The Saudi-led coalition forces have been obliged to respond. It is necessary to demonstrate to the Houthi rebels that they will pay a high price for their bad faith. No armed forces anywhere could ignore such a provocation. To have done so would have allowed the terrorists to embark on a ruthless turkey shoot.
The Houthis and their Iranian sponsors are using the peace talks for anything but peace. The cease-fire is being used to rearm and regroup. The cross-border missile attack proves the bad faith of the Houthi negotiators. At some point, the Kingdom and its allies must draw a line. The onslaught of Operation Decisive Storm forced the Houthis to the negotiating table. But they have abused the resulting respite. Encouraged by their Iranian backers, they are preparing for renewed resistance.
This is a tragedy for Yemen. There was considerable devastation when the Houthis sought to overthrow the legitimate government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Houthi rebellion has been halted. The insurgents cannot win. Yet if they continue to listen to the siren voices from Tehran, there will be yet more ruin, yet more bloodshed.
The damage to areas of Yemen is already catastrophic. The country was impoverished before Iran unleashed the Houthis. In some regions the position has now become pitiable. Homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Breadwinners have died. Refugees have fled in search of safety. The Kingdom is leading a major effort to care for these desperate people. The short-term humanitarian needs provided by the Kingdom are already considerable. The aid required in the long-term will be immense.
Saudi Arabia and its allies stand ready to help the country rebuild. There is a will in the Arab world to give Yemen the foundations for prosperity. But this work cannot be undertaken until there is stability. That stability cannot come until the Houthis recognize the futility of further resistance. As their losses mounted, some rebel leaders question the point of continuing the rebellion. Rank and file rebels began to melt away from the fighting. But Tehran refused to loosen the reins. It had fomented chaos on the southern border of the one Arab state that stands between it and its regional ambitions. It was not about to give up as the insurgent losses mounted. The Iranian government was prepared to fight its Yemen campaign through to the life of the last Houthi rebel.
The international community can be under no further illusions about Iranian interference. President Barack Obama freed Iran from crippling economic sanctions in return for largely-meaningless and time-limited promises over its nuclear weapons program. He thus empower Tehran for greater interference in the affairs of its Arab neighbors, who are also his long-standing allies. He also emboldened the Iran leaders. They now make no secret of their dangerous meddling. And did Obama ever imagine that his “open hand of friendship” to Iran would result in Russian bombers using an Iranian air base?
The Kingdom has warned constantly of the serious dangers of Obama’s Iranian appeasement. Many on Capitol Hill have come to accept the wisdom of the Saudi view. It is not too late to reverse such an ill-conceived foreign policy change. Western businessmen who rushed to Iran in the hope of big deals are being disillusioned. Iranian counter-parties are demonstrating slipperiness and bad faith that make major foreign investment look majorly risky.
Tehran has got its hands on its frozen funds but needs far more than cash. Reimposed sanctions would once again rob it of the expertise and technology it needs to rebuild its decayed productive infrastructure.