Only terrorists target a civilian airport

Only terrorists target a civilian airport

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The cowardly terrorist attack on Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia’s southern region comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with the violent nature of the Houthis. Anyone who has followed the war in Yemen needs no reminder of their savagely barbaric behavior.

Like all wars, the one in Yemen is both ugly and complicated. Let us not, however, forget how and why it began. These Houthi terrorists who have attacked civilian targets overthrew the legitimate UN-backed and internationally recognized government of Yemen. At that point, Yemen sought aid and assistance from Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors.

Critics will be quick to point out that the Arab coalition has also caused civilian casualties in Yemen. Yes, that is true but there is one big difference: Coalition actions were errors which were investigated and apologized for. The Houthis, on the other hand, brag about attacking Saudi cities and they regularly threaten to kill civilians. Just as they did today by claiming that they fired four armed drones at Abha airport.

In fact the Houthis have launched hundreds of missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities (including areas close to the holy city of Makkah). They have repeatedly targeted civilians and civilian targets but thanks to Saudi Arabia's air defenses, the casualties have been minimal.

The international community should not hesitate calling this what it is: A terrorist attack. Just because Saudi air defenses are highly effective and there have been no images of body bags, or because Saudi Arabia is richer and bigger than Yemen — none of that transforms the Kingdom from victim into a villain.

There have been attacks on Riyadh airport in the past. There have been attacks close to Jeddah airport as well. One thing to note is the intensified number of attacks in the last few weeks. The Houthis seem to have been emboldened by the mention of talks coming out of Washington’s corridors of power. They have seen these goodwill gestures as signs of weakness of the world community and, more specifically, America. The Houthis must be held accountable and called what they are — terrorists with a state at their disposal that they have for too long held hostage.

The Houthis must be held accountable and called what they are — terrorists.

Faisal J. Abbas

I hope those advising the Biden administration are taking note. There have been talks of lifting the designation of Houthis as terrorists, which was imposed by the previous administration. Given the deep divisions and state of internal US politics, I am not sure if this is just mere political bickering with the previous administration — or do Joe Biden’s advisers genuinely believe the argument that not calling the Houthis terrorists will facilitate aid and relief.

Just a reminder: The Houthis have for long blocked aid and prohibited it from getting to the hands of the needy, and they have done so even with personal protective equipment at the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic last year. This fact is well documented and the Houthis have been criticized for this irresponsible behavior, not just by Saudi Arabia or the previous US administration, but by the UN and Human Rights Watch.

Of course, blocking aid is no surprise coming from a group that actively recruits children in war, preaches extremism and whose official slogan is “Death to America.” In addition, the Houthis have attacked the US Navy three times. Again, this is not idle talk; they are documented facts.

What was significant about the attacks on the US Navy was that they came in the last few days of the Obama administration, which was advised to be kind to the Iranians, the paymasters of the Houthis, in the hope of convincing them to behave responsibly. Of course, Barack Obama later found out that while Iran happily took the billions of dollars that resulted from the signing of the nuclear deal, it did not change its behavior in any way and continued to destabilize the region through injecting money and support to its armed militias.

If anything, Wednesday's attack on Abha airport shows that the Houthis — like Iran itself — misinterpret goodwill gestures and will behave only when shown the stick, not the carrot.

Let us see what the international position is and what international law can do to tackle this menace. The bottom line is that while we can agree or disagree on several things, deliberately targeting a civilian airport is not a matter of debate — it is a heinous war crime.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas
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