By Arab News
By Faisal J. Abbas*
The deadly terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi on Monday by the Houthi militia in Yemen, despicable as it was, came as no surprise to those of us in the region — especially here in Saudi Arabia — who are already familiar with how low these terrorists can sink.
Enabled by their backers in Iran, the Houthis have launched waves of drone and missile attacks targeting civilians and key infrastructure in the Kingdom, from Jazan in the southwest to Riyadh itself.
Yes, there is a war going on in Yemen, and wars have inevitable consequences. Some people will say the UAE and Saudi Arabia must have expected that civilian casualties would be one of them.
Non-combatants, including innocent people in Yemen, have died — although it is important to point out that there is no moral equivalence here. When the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen causes civilian casualties it does so by accident, it investigates, and it apologizes; the Houthis kill innocent people deliberately, then brag about it.
What the UAE and Saudi Arabia could not have expected, however, was that the US under the Biden administration would turn its back on them — long-time allies and partners — in the way that it has, by revoking the Trump-era designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group, and withdrawing Patriot air-defense batteries even as the Kingdom was coming under attack from Houthi missiles.
These actions were unexpected not just because of the history and the strategic logic behind the alliance, but because America has seen at first hand what the Houthis are capable of.
Not only is the group’s official motto “Death to America,” but it also attacked the US Navy on three occasions in late 2016 at a time when Barack Obama was trying to appease Iran.
The US says it revoked the Houthi terrorist designation because it was hampering the flow of aid to Yemen, an argument that convinces no one. As Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told Arab News in an interview last year, the Taliban, Daesh, Hezbollah, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram are all on the US terrorism list, but that does not impede the flow of aid into Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia or the Sahel.
As for the withdrawal of the Patriot batteries, the US says it had been planned for some time as part of a strategic regional reorientation, and was not intended against Saudi Arabia specifically — although if that were true, why could the decision not simply be reversed when Washington can see that the Kingdom continues to come under missile attack? Not only that, but in behavior that defies logic, while some misguided US legislators continually try to block US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some media commentators have the audacity to criticize the Kingdom for turning to other countries to secure weapons with which to defend itself.
The war in Yemen is not going the Houthis’ way. Coalition forces have driven them out of Shabwa and made military gains in the battleground province of Marib. Wounded animals lash out, so the attack on Abu Dhabi was in many ways predictable. However, sad to say, Iran is currently not the only enabler of these terrorists; they would never have dared to strike in such a way had they not felt empowered by the Biden administration’s failure to support its allies and partners.
It was reported by Bloomberg on Monday that the UAE would ask the US to reinstate the Houthis on its terrorist list. Acceding to that request is the very least America can do.
- Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas