The deadly attack by Houthi militia, close to Abu Dhabi Airport, earlier this week, is another evidence of the failure of the Biden Administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East. No logic can appropriately explain why the American President is adopting such a policy that is militarily weakening Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while re-empowering Iran and its affiliated proxies and militias, that are wreaking havoc throughout the region.
It was clear from the early statements of President Biden, during his electoral campaign, that his administration would not be as supportive of the war led by Saudi Arabia and UAE in Yemen, since 2015, as the Trump Administration was. In a media interview, in 2019, Biden highlighted the policy he intended to adopt towards Saudi Arabia, if he became a U.S. President, by saying: “I would make it very clear we were not going to sell more weapons to them. We were going to make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.”
Later in 2020, on his nomination hearing, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senators that Biden “has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. And I think we will work on that in a very short order once the President-elect is President.”
Immediately after Biden’s inauguration, in January 2021, the U.S. State Department decided to review the Trump Administration’s decision to designate the Houthis in Yemen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The next day, the State Department announced holding for review arms and ammunition sales agreements that the Trump administration signed with Saudi Arabia, and to temporarily pause the sale of F-35 fighter jets that are due to UAE upon a contract signed with Lockheed Martin under the Trump administration. Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced its intention to revive talks with Iran on the nuclear deal and ease the suffocating economic sanctions imposed by Trump.
Two days later, Italy decided to follow the American lead. The Italian government revoked the authorizations for exporting missiles and aircraft bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and prevented the issuance of similar authorizations for exporting similar weapons to the two countries in the future. The revocation of this license, alone, led to canceling the supply of over 12,700 bombs to Saudi Arabia. The Italian government justified the decision by the same justification offered by the American government. That is; eliminating the possibility of Italian weapons being used against civilians or contributing to worsening the already tragic humanitarian situation in Yemen.
In less than a year, Saudi Arabia and UAE started to pay for the flawed policy of the Biden Administration in the region. The missile and drone attacks launched by the Houthis on Saudi Arabia intensified and frequented, targeting strategic economic sites in Saudi main cities. By the beginning of this year, the Houthi started to expand their operations to target other Arab Gulf Countries, such as the UAE. The Houthi has not targeted UAE, since 2018, when the UAE decided to downsize its military operation in Yemen via the Coalition Forces. In January 2021, Anwar Gargash, the then UAE State Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that “the UAE ended its military involvement in Yemen in October 2020. Eager to see the war over, the UAE has supported UN efforts and multiple peace initiatives. Throughout, the UAE has remained one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people.”
Despite that, the UAE continued to support smaller rebel groups in the southern governorates, such as the Giants Brigades, which supported the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, when the Houthi captured Sana’a in 2014. On the 3rd of January, the Houthi military spokesman published, on social media, the footage of a UAE-flagged vessel, carrying military equipment and supplies, that they arrested at the coast of Hodeidah, in the Red Sea.
Exactly, two weeks later, on the morning of the 17th of January, a drone attack, claimed by the Houthi, hit an oil facility in Abu Dhabi, flamed fires at Abu Dhabi International Airport, and led to the killing of three people. On the next day, the Saudi-led Coalition Forces retaliated by launching several air raids on Houthi-affiliated targets in Sana’a, including the house of a former military official, and killed at least 20 people. In a media statement, the Houthi leadership promised to launch similar attacks on the UAE, in the future.
Clearly, this episode of war between the Coalition Forces and the Houthi is not expected to end soon, which will eventually insinuate troubles in world trade movement via the Red Sea, and further disturb the Arab Gulf region. That is especially true if the Biden Administration continues to give the benefit of the doubt to the Houthi. In an official media response by the U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to the Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi, this week, he said that “the United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Abu Dhabi… the Houthis have claimed responsibility for this attack, and we will work with the UAE and international partners to hold them accountable. Our commitment to the security of the UAE is unwavering and we stand beside our Emirati partners against all threats to their territory.”
Hopefully, Sullivan’s words would be translated, in the nearest date possible, into real action that corrects the policy mistake of the Biden Administration towards the Gulf region. Actually, no human, with a conscience, can endorse a military escalation that magnifies the unbearable humanitarian sufferings of the Yemeni people. However, this should not blind the Biden Administration, or other observers in the international community, from the fact that the Houthi is not working for Yemen. The Houthi is a terrorist militia that is militarily equipped by Iran and is contributing a big deal to the sufferings of the Yemeni people. The Biden Administration’s giving an Iran-backed militia the benefit of the doubt was a mistake, and the time has come to correct it.
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