By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
The Iranian government has begun signaling that it wants to start a new chapter with Saudi Arabia, expressing hope that the holy month of Ramadan could be the beginning of the end of insecurity and instability in the region. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh last month stated: “Iran and Saudi Arabia, as two important countries in the region and the Muslim world, can enter a new chapter of interaction and cooperation to achieve regional peace, stability and development by adopting constructive and dialogue-based approaches.”
However, to accomplish this crucial goal, Tehran must move beyond words and make fundamental changes to its policy toward the Kingdom. If the Iranian government genuinely wants to mend its relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of the most important steps it could take would be to halt its support for Yemeni terror group the Houthis.
While Yemen does not pose a national security threat to the Islamic Republic, it does to Saudi Arabia, since it shares a border with the Gulf state. Therefore, it follows that the Iranian leaders must admit and take responsibility for their role in the devastating conflict in Yemen. Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging Iran’s destructive role, Khatibzadeh said: “By presenting proposals and initiatives for dialogue and cooperation in the Gulf region, including the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE), the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a pioneer in the path of amity and regional cooperation.”
There is a plethora of evidence linking the Iranian regime to the war in Yemen. The latest UN annual report revealed that not only are the Houthis receiving weapons from the Iranian regime, but they are also being trained by Iran’s military apparatuses. It stated: “An increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in the Islamic Republic of Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis. The Panel is also investigating a group of individuals who travelled to Oman on ‘mercy flights’ in 2015 and onwards to the Islamic Republic of Iran. One later publicly stated that he had received naval training in Bandar Abbas and went on to facilitate maritime smuggling for the Houthis.” Iranian weapons shipments bound for war-torn Yemen have also been frequently seized.
Iran’s weapons are being deployed for offensive purposes by the Houthis. For example, just last month, Houthi forces launched a drone at a military airbase in the southern Saudi Arabian city of Khamis Mushait. And last week they used missiles and drones to attack Najran and King Khalid military base. The Houthis reportedly launched more than 40 drones and missiles at Saudi Arabia in February alone. Previously, the Houthi rebels also claimed responsibility for the 2019 attacks on two Aramco plants at the heart of the Kingdom’s oil industry — the world’s biggest oil processing facility at Abqaiq near Dammam and the country’s second-largest oilfield at Khurais.
The Houthis’ attacks appear to have increased since the Biden administration assumed office in January and adopted a softer tone toward the Iranian government. Even Western officials have acknowledged the escalation, with a senior US defense official telling NBC News: “We’re certainly aware of a troubling increase in Houthi cross-border attacks from a variety of systems, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).”
The Iranian government must order the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to cease its military assistance for the Houthis. The IRGC, which is designated as a terrorist group by the US, is a key supporter and sponsor of the Houthis and has been supplying it with weapons including anti-tank guided missiles, sniper rifles and rocket launchers. This means that the Iranian regime must fundamentally alter its core mission, which stipulates: “The Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps … will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world.”
Finally, the Iranian leaders must change their policy of attempting to take over Yemen, just as they have tried to take over other countries, such as Lebanon, through the proxy group Hezbollah, as well as Syria and Iraq.
The Iranian government cannot talk about peace and mending ties with Saudi Arabia while its proxy, the Houthis, continues to launch drones at the Kingdom. If the Iranian leaders truly want to improve their relationship with Saudi Arabia, they must first stop supporting and arming the Houthis.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh