The Trace: The Yemen reset is linked to Iran
US ups the ante in Yemen
In response to escalating drone and missile attacks by Ansarallah (Supporters of God, the Houthis’ formal name) on the UAE’s home lands, the Biden government is shifting its approach to the Yemen war, now entering its seventh year, to Saudi Arabia.
Just this week, the United States pledged more military support to its Gulf partners as it weighs whether to reinstate Ansarallah on the list of foreign terrorist organizations or, failing that, sanction key Houthi leaders.
The bottom line is that the United States is becoming more, not less, involved in Yemen as crucial nuclear talks with Houthi backer Iran enter their final weeks. Consider this timeline:
2021: A “special focus” on Houthi sanctions
2022: Hold Houthis to account
So far in 2022, again according to the UNthere were 1,403 coalition airstrikes on Yemen and another 39 Houthi attacks directly on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
- Jan 21: UN Security Council condemns “heinous terrorist attacks‘ on January 17 in the United Arab Emirates and at locations in Saudi Arabia.
- January 24: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan discusses joint efforts hold the Houthis accountable with the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States Yousef Al-Otaiba and Saudi Ambassador to the United States Reema bint Bandar Al Saud.
- January 31: After the third Houthi attack on the UAE this month, Otaiba and UAE Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh to write The Wall Street Journal that the United States should relist the Houthis as a designated terrorist group.
- 2 February: State Department spokesman Ned price Al-Monitor said the classification remains “under review” and hinted at the possibility of further sanctions against Houthi people. “We will not stop appointing Houthi leaders and organizations… I suspect that given the reprehensible attacks we have seen from Yemen’s Houthis, we will be able to take additional action.”
- February 1: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin says the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan that the United States will continue to share information, cooperate on air defenses, and also send a missile destroyer and a “fifth generation fighter jet” to the UAE…as a clear signal that the United States stands with the UAE as a long-standing strategic partner.
Our tip: look at the Iran talks
- the increased US military support is not just a sign of US commitment to the UAE – it is a signal to Iran.
- The Houthis are a penny stock investment for Iran: low investment, high return. Iranians also read the newspapers; You know Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been hammered by some in Congress for their warfare – another dividend in their score.
- Iran is unlikely to support a ceasefire while the stakes are so high and negotiations are ongoing in Vienna. A senior State Department official said on January 31 that it was only “a handful of weeks“left to finalize a nuclear deal, and it is a “goal” by the United States to have a separate discussion with Iran on regional security.
From our regional correspondents:
1. Iran and Israel: Bennett knocks on Bibi’s ‘unacceptable’ legacy
In which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett touted as a “period of unprecedented construction,” the Israeli military has embarked on a massive spending spree that includes acquiring missiles, ammunition, refueling aircraft, developing laser-based intercept systems and new cyber tools. Bennett told Al-Monitor that the billions in additional defense spending will “prevent war, not bring it closer,” and he hopes to boost Israel’s GDP to $1 trillion within 12 years.
Bennett also discussed Benjamin Netanyahu’s “unacceptable legacy” to Iran, Israel’s disagreements with its “great friend” the United States, and his view of the Vienna talks. “[Iran] must have a choice – the survival of the regime or a continued race for nuclear capabilities, and they must not receive a gift of tens of billions,” he said. Read more from Ben Kaspit‘s last interview with Bennett here.
2. Iran and Turkey: Iranian gas outages trigger energy review
In other Iranian news, a disruption in Iranian gas supplies to Turkey this month sparked an unprecedented energy crisis that put Ankara’s energy preparedness to a new test. The Jan. 20 gas lockdown, attributed to a technical problem in the pipeline between neighbors, forced Turkey’s state-owned pipeline operator to cut gas supplies to industrial areas, resulting in a supply drop of about 20 million cubic meters per day.
“The energy crisis hit the production of hundreds of companies at a time when Turkey’s industry is already grappling with economic turmoil and skyrocketing gas and electricity prices, raising questions about Ankara’s energy ties with Tehran and its energy policies,” he writes Muhdan Saglam. Energy experts say the Turkish government has been slow to respond to the disruption as it failed to prepare for harsh winter weather and difficult market conditions.
3. Iran and China: Beijing strengthens ties with Iran with new consulate
Meanwhile, Iran has approved China’s opening of a new consulate in the port city of Bandar Abbas Sabena SiddiquI mention “a significant development” for Sino-Iranian relations. The consulate — China’s first in Iran — is likely linked to the 25-year strategic pact the two countries signed in March 2021, which brought Tehran into Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.
China remains Iran’s most important trading partner. However, whether the pair can deepen economic ties with the Islamic Republic depends on the outcome of the Vienna talks, including whether the United States will lift its secondary sanctions on Iran.
4. Egypt encourages investments in Africa with a new solar system
As the longstanding dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) continues, the Egyptian government is expanding ties with other African countries. Most recently, Egypt inaugurated a solar power plant in eastern Uganda Ibrahim Ayyad Reports is the latest example of an Egyptian development project on the African continent. The power plant’s opening comes amid recent reports that Addis Ababa has begun testing power generation at the GERD, at a time when Cairo is calling for negotiations to resume on a binding agreement.
5. Hamas produces alternative to Israel’s “Fauda”
A new Hamas-backed action series hits TV screens in the Arab world this spring. The 30-part show, titled “Qabdat al-Ahrar” (“Fist of the Free”), follows the infiltration of an Israeli cell sent to the Gaza Strip to kidnap a prominent Palestinian resistance leader.
The series was filmed on location in the Gaza Strip with local actors. Ahmed Melhem writes that Hamas is framing the show as an alternative to “Fauda,” a popular Israeli series about an Israeli anti-terrorist force operating in the West Bank.
Multimedia this week: Turkey in Ukraine, Islamic State prison break, Israel’s government
Listen: Back from her reporting trip to Ukraine, Amberin Zaman and analyst lliya kusa discuss why Ukrainians love Turkey and its authoritarian leader, the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Link here.
Consider: A search is now underway for Islamic State fighters who escaped from a Kurdish-run prison in northeastern Syria over the past month. Link here.
Listen: Ben Kaspit job interviews Ephraim Schne, a former Israeli minister and retired Brigadier General, on the Bennett-led government’s policy towards the Palestinians. Link here.
Consider: Giles Kepel Talks with former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud about his new book The Afghanistan File. Link here.