Are Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis firing warning shots across Biden administration’s bows?

However, everyone knows that the Houthis, backed by Iran, are the ones who carry out such terrorist acts and use ballistic missiles and drones, says analyst Hamdan Al-Shehri. (AFP/File)
However, everyone knows that the Houthis, backed by Iran, are the ones who carry out such terrorist acts and use ballistic missiles and drones, says analyst Hamdan Al-Shehri. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Are Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis firing warning shots across Biden administration’s bows?

Are Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis firing warning shots across Biden administration’s bows?
  • Militia has alternated between bragging about targeting Saudi population centers and maintaining plausible deniability
  • Apparent sighting of projectile high over Riyadh on Tuesday was the second such incident in a span of just three days

LONDON: Was the object sighted high above Riyadh on Tuesday a stray projectile with no evident target or a warning shot across the bows of the Biden administration? That was the question uppermost in the minds of defense experts and political analysts, just three days after a “hostile air target” — assumed to be a ballistic missile — heading towards the Saudi capital was intercepted and destroyed.

Social media was abuzz on Tuesday with footage of smoke hanging over Riyadh, with residents describing how the windows of their homes were rattled by the impact of at least one explosion. By late evening, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis had not crowed about a direct hit on the city of 7.68 million people. The militia’s behavior ran true to recent form: it had denied involvement in Saturday’s failed attack.

But the fact of the matter is, these could be the first significant attacks targeting a major Saudi city since the US State Department designated the Houthis (also known as Ansar Allah) as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” on Jan. 19 — one of the final acts of the Donald Trump administration in its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and its proxies.




A flurry of attacks on US allies could be attempts by Iran to test President Biden’s resolve or, with luck, even kickstart dialogue. (AFP)

Without naming the Houthis explicitly, the Biden administration issued a statement after Saturday’s incident, condemning the undeniable targeting of civilians. “Such attacks contravene international law and undermine all efforts to promote peace and stability,” the State Department said.

To many political observers, the new Houthi approach is a complete no-brainer: Threatened with sanctions and political isolation, and desperate for potential concessions from Washington, the militia is trying to have its cake and eat it too by launching attacks on Riyadh and not claiming responsibility for them.


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“There is no doubt that after evaluating the international response and noticing that a claim of responsibility would be counterproductive — especially after being classified by the State Department as “terrorists” — the Houthis tried to deny they were behind Saturday’s attack,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.

“However, everyone knows that the Houthis, backed by Iran, are the ones who carry out such terrorist acts and use ballistic missiles and drones. They also tried to get on the new US administration’s good side by denying what happened in the Kingdom. But everyone knows who is responsible for these actions.”




Riyadh, which is roughly 850 km from the Yemeni border, was first attacked by the Houthis on Nov. 4, 2017. (Shutterstock)

According to experts, the Houthis have a strategy of swinging between bragging about targeting population centers and maintaining plausible deniability. In other words, they pick and choose whichever attitude suits their objectives, and those of their Iranian patrons, at any given time.

Put bluntly, the brazen strikes targeting Saudi Arabia’s capital may not be routine tactical operations in a low-intensity conflict but rather reflective of a larger strategic decision by Iran to put President Joe Biden’s foreign-policy team on notice.

The Trump administration withdrew the US from the Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 and reimposed a slew of economic sanctions on the regime in Tehran. The strategy was matched by a zero-tolerance approach to Iranian influence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

The US Treasury on Monday suspended some of the terrorism sanctions that the State Department had imposed on the Houthis in President Donald Trump’s waning days in office. Against this backdrop of apparent policy reviews, a flurry of attacks on Washington’s regional allies and partners could very well be attempts by Tehran to test President Biden’s resolve or, with luck, even kickstart dialogue.

“There is no doubt that Iran wants to test the new administration to know how serious it is regarding the Yemeni issue and the Iranian nuclear issue, and it wants to negotiate with more than one card,” Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“It is as though to say: ‘If you are willing to reduce the pressure on the nuclear issue, we will reduce the pressure on targeting Riyadh.’ This is nothing but cheap and shameless political blackmail, and the world knows it.”

“Cheap and shameless” is also one way to describe the Houthis’ propensity for targeting civilian population centers, often hundreds of miles inside Saudi territory.

March 26, 2018, saw one of the biggest Houthi barrages, with Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles raining down on civilian areas in four Saudi cities. Three of them targeted Riyadh, while two were aimed at Jazan and the others at Khamis Mushayt and Najran.




Civilians have been in the Houthis’ crosshairs since the very beginning of their takeover of Sana’a. (AFP/File)

Although Saudi air defenses intercepted all seven missiles, an Egyptian civilian was killed by falling debris and two others were injured. All of the attacks appear to have deliberately targeted populated areas.

“Launching indiscriminate attacks is prohibited by international humanitarian law,” Amnesty International’s Samah Hadid said at the time.

“A high death toll may have been averted, possibly due to the missiles being intercepted, but that doesn’t let the Houthi armed group off the hook for this reckless and unlawful act. These missiles cannot be precisely targeted at such distances, so their use in this manner unlawfully endangers civilians.”

Riyadh, which is roughly 850 km from the Yemeni border, was first attacked by the Houthis on Nov. 4, 2017, when an unguided ballistic missile targeted King Khalid International Airport — about 35 km northeast of the capital.

Although the missile was intercepted in flight, fragments fell inside the airport area. No one was hurt, but the result could have been catastrophic.

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“An attack with an unguided ballistic missile such as the Burkan H2 from this range is indiscriminate since these weapons are not capable of the necessary accuracy to target military objectives,” Human Rights Watch said at the time.

“When deliberately or indiscriminately directed toward populated areas or civilian objects, such attacks violate the laws of war, and may amount to war crimes.”

A year earlier, in Oct. 2016, a missile, thought to have been a Burkan 1, was intercepted by Saudi air defenses just 65 km south of Makkah. The Houthis claimed at the time their intended target was Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Civilians have been in the Houthis’ crosshairs since the very beginning of their takeover of Sana’a. In May 2015 there were repeated indiscriminate attacks with short-range rockets from northern Yemen into populated areas of southern Saudi Arabia, which left several civilians dead.




The Houthis are trying to have their cake and eat it too by launching attacks on Riyadh and not claiming responsibility for them. (Reuters/File)

Fighting in Yemen escalated in 2015 when the Houthis overthrew the UN-recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. An Arab coalition, backed by the US, Britain and France, launched a military campaign to restore the legitimate government to power.

Since then, repeated attempts to reach a peace settlement have foundered, with the militia’s representatives failing to attend UN-brokered talks in Geneva in Sept. 2018 and its combatants willfully ignoring the terms of the Stockholm and Riyadh agreements.

An April 2020 ceasefire announced by the coalition at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly fell apart when the Houthis resumed cross-border drone and missile strikes targeting Saudi Arabia.

The conflict, now in its sixth year, has left 112,000 dead and 24 million in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

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Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon

Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon
Updated 7 min 14 sec ago

Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon

Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon
  • Lebanese Red Cross reports 2 hospitalized and 17 evicted due to blaze
  • More than 16 firefighting brigades from Tripoli and Beirut respond as Aoun has Cypriot authorities on standby

BEIRUT: A massive fire broke out in the Qobayat area north of Lebanon on Wednesday and spread so fast that many families were stuck in their properties.
A spokesperson for the Lebanese Civil Defence (LCD) told Arab News the blaze was a result of high temperatures, humidity, and winds but was “almost under control” after more than 16 firefighting brigades responded to the fire.
“Fire brigades from Tripoli and Beirut have been extinguishing the enormous flames that we face every summer season,” the LCD spokesperson said. “The head of LCD operations is supervising the fire-extinguishing process.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) told Arab News it also dispatched teams to the Qobayat area when the fire broke out.
“We evicted families including women, children, and the elderly as our teams remain on the ground,” the LRC spokesperson said.
According to the LRC Twitter account, 17 people were evicted, seven were treated at the site and two were hospitalized as a result of the fire.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun ordered the Lebanese Army and LCD to exert all efforts to extinguish the fire and prevent it from reaching homes and properties. He also gave orders to evict any families that could be in the path of the fire.
Aoun asked local authorities to communicate with Cypriot authorities for assistance if the fire escalated. 
The National News Agency (NNA) said the Lebanese Army rescued a number of citizens from their cars after they were surrounded by fires that broke out near the Qobayat-Rowaymah Highway.
One of Qobayat mayors, Youssef Nader, told Al-Jadeed TV that 60 percent of the fire that surrounded residential areas had been brought under control, but blazes in the nearby fields “remain out of control.”
One wounded person was transferred to the Al-Salam Hospital Emergency Department in Qobayat.
Lebanese Army helicopters, civil defense teams, and volunteers from Qobayat and other areas in Akkar continued to battle the blaze on Wednesday, which expanded towards new areas in Mount Akroum, the NNA reported.


Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials

Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials
Updated 28 July 2021

Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials

Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials
  • Late Tuesday, Saied issued decrees sacking a list of government officials, including the army’s chief prosecutor
  • He has also lifted the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers, and assumed judicial powers

TUNIS: Tunisia lurched further into political uncertainty Wednesday, as President Kais Saied sacked more officials, days after he suspended parliament and assumed executive powers in what opponents labelled a “coup.”
Key civil society groups warned against any “illegitimate” extension of Saied’s 30-day suspension of parliament, and demanded in a joint statement a timeline for political action.
After suspending parliament and sacking Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday, and firing the defense and justice ministers on Monday, Saied then ordered the dismissal of several top officials.
Late Tuesday, 63-year-old Saied, a former law lecturer who was a political newcomer when he won a landslide 2019 presidential election victory, issued decrees sacking a long list of senior government officials, including the army’s chief prosecutor.
He has also lifted the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers, and assumed judicial powers.
Saied say his actions are justified under the constitution, which allows the head of state to take unspecified exceptional measures in the event of an “imminent threat.”
On top of the political turmoil, the North African nation is beset by a crippling economic crisis including soaring inflation and high unemployment, as well as surging Covid-19 infections.
The moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, which was the largest faction in the coalition government, has labelled the power grab a “coup d’etat,” while the US, EU and other powers have voiced strong concern.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Wednesday urged Tunisia to rapidly appoint a new prime minister and government.
Further ramping up tensions, the Tunisian prosecutor’s office announced on Wednesday the judiciary has opened an investigation into allegations that Ennahdha and two other political parties received illegal funding ahead of elections in 2019.
The financial arm of the judiciary opened the probe on July 14, focusing on “the foreign financing and acceptance of funds of unknown origin,” prosecution spokesman Mohsen Dali said.
Tunisians are waiting anxiously for clarity on the next political steps.
Saied, an austere law academic who has said he is determined to revolutionize the political system through the law, said he would assume executive power “with the help” of a government whose new chief he would appoint himself.
Names of possible candidates circulated Wednesday after Saied met with representatives of national organizations late Monday.
“President Saied will be very careful in choosing the future head of government, because he wants a trustworthy and loyal person who would adopt the same policies as him,” said political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi.
The young democracy had often been cited as the sole success story of the Arab Spring.
But, a decade on, many in the nation of 12 million people say they have seen little improvement in living standards, and have grown infuriated by protracted political deadlock with infighting among the elite.
The ousted government had also been criticized for its handling of the Covid pandemic. Tunisia has one of the world’s highest official per-capita death tolls.
“President Saied is faced with a great challenge: to show Tunisians and the world that he made the right decisions,” added Jourchi.
After violent clashes outside the army-blockaded parliament on Monday, the Ennahdha party said “organized thugs” were being used to “provoke bloodshed and chaos.”
On Tuesday Ennahdha said that, “for the sake of the democratic path,” it is “ready to go to early legislative and presidential elections” while demanding “that any delay is not used as a pretext to maintain an autocratic regime.”
Noureddine B’Hiri, a senior Ennahdha leader, said the party had “decided to campaign peacefully to defeat” the president’s plans.
But before any elections, “parliament should resume its activities and the military end its control,” B’Hiri told AFP.
In the 10 years since Tunisia’s popular revolution toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has had nine governments.
Some have lasted just months, hindering the reforms needed to revamp the country’s struggling economy and poor public services.


US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials

US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials
Updated 28 July 2021

US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials

US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials
  • The prisons “have been sites of human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees,” the statement said
  • The Treasury Department also put sanctions on Syrian armed group Ahrar Al-Sharqiya

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury Department said on Wednesday it had imposed sanctions on eight Syrian prisons run by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s intelligence apparatus and five senior officials who control the sites, where human rights abuses have taken place.
The Treasury Department also put sanctions on Syrian armed group Ahrar Al-Sharqiya, which operates in northern Syria, for abuses against civilians, as well as on two of the group’s leaders, it said in a statement.
“Today’s designations promote accountability for abuses committed against the Syrian people and deny rogue actors access to the international financial system,” said Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Director Andrea Gacki. “This action demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to targeting human rights abuses in Syria, regardless of the perpetrator.”
The prisons “have been sites of human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees,” the statement said. It accused Ahrar Al-Sharqiya of numerous crimes against civilians, especially Syrian Kurds, “including unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and seizures of private property.”
In a separate statement, the Treasury said it had imposed sanctions on one Turkey-based Al-Qaeda financial facilitator for materially assisting the militant group as well as one Syria-based terrorist fundraiser and recruiter for providing material support to Hay’et Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a militant group previously sanctioned under US counter-terrorism authorities.


Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system

Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system
Updated 28 July 2021

Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system

Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system
  • Japanese system develops all the skills of the student, focusing on creativity and thinking rather than conservation and indoctrination
  • Egyptian-Japanese schools in Egypt are preparing for the new academic year, which begins in October

CAIRO: The Japanese education system, Tokkatsu, continues to flourish in Egypt as the country had 48 schools that used the system during the last academic school year. 

These Egyptian-Japanese schools teach Egyptian curriculum in addition to the Japanese Tokkatsu educational system, which develops all the skills of the student, focusing on creativity and thinking rather than conservation and indoctrination.

Safwat Al-Jamai, an educationist, told Arab News the Tokkatsu method relies on activities that help the students with daily life, self-development, health, safety, and creativity.

“It encourages students to help with the management and planning of the activities, and there are cultural exchange programs for different age groups within the school,” Al-Jamai said.

“It also entails activities that develop a sense of belonging and solidarity toward others and working for the public interest through practical activities carried out by students."

These activities, according to Al-Jamai, transform the role of the teacher into that of a facilitator. They no longer merely teach facts and concepts leading students to a right-or-wrong answer, but rather facilitate social and emotional learning for the student through trial and error in an individual or group environment.

The activities also enable the development of the personal and social skills needed when students enter the real world, and it requires them to share tasks, set rules, experience leadership as well as follow rules and adhere to order.

Egyptian-Japanese schools in Egypt are preparing for the new academic year, which begins in October. One of them is in Sharm El-Sheikh, which was inaugurated by the Egyptian Minister of Education, Tariq Shawky, and the Governor of South Sinai, Maj. Gen. Khaled Fouda, last March.

The Egyptian-Japanese School in Sharm El-Sheikh is located near King Salman University and consists of 28 classrooms from kindergarten to secondary school. It is the second such school in the governorate after another that was established in Tur Sinai in October 2018.

The Egyptian-Japanese School finished conducting personal interviews for students initially accepted to the school for the academic year 2021-2022. Prospective students applied to enroll in the school through the school's website, under the supervision of the Egyptian-Japanese Schools Administration Unit at the Ministry of Education.

They canceled paper submissions due to coronavirus (COVID-19) safety precautions. 

The admission process for students included a personal interview with parents, submission of supporting documents with the application, a math test, and a cognitive skills test for the child. Personal interviews were also conducted for students applying for kindergarten.

Mahmoud Abdel-Aal, director of the Egyptian-Japanese School, said interview results will be announced after they are completed in all schools nationwide.


Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon

Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon
Updated 28 July 2021

Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon

Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon
  • Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said he hoped to form a government in the "near future"

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said on Wednesday that he hoped to form a government shortly after securing the approval of President Michel Aoun for most of his nominees.
Mikati, a businessman, is the third potential prime minister to be nominated since Hassan Diab's government resigned after an explosion in Beirut's port area on Aug. 4 last year that killed more than 200 people and flattened large areas of the city. He spoke to reporters after meeting Aoun.
Diab's government has stayed on in a caretaker capacity, but Lebanon's currency has collapsed, jobs have vanished and banks have frozen accounts in the country's worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
"I gave my proposals, President Aoun approved most of them and he made some remarks which are acceptable; God willing ... we will be able to form a government soon," Mikati said.
Mikati has been prime minister twice before and, unlike many Lebanese leaders, does not represent a political bloc or hail from a dynasty.
Like the previous nominee, Saad Al-Hariri, he must navigate the sectarian, power-sharing structure and secure agreement on a cabinet equipped to address the financial meltdown in Lebanon, one of the world's most heavily indebted states.