Why Arabs don’t trust the Biden administration – analysis

If and when the Biden administration signs a new deal with Iran, the sense of betrayal in the Arab world is extremely likely to broaden.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute

As the Biden administration and other world powers continue to negotiate with the Iranians about reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), there is growing concern in the Arab world about the destructive actions and policies of Iran and its proxies, especially the Houthi militia in Yemen.

Prominent Arab political analysts, commentators and journalists are continuing to express fear about Iran’s “expansionist” schemes in the Arab countries, especially Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. They say they are worried that a return to the JCPOA would further embolden the mullahs in Tehran and the Iranian-backed terrorist groups.

The Arabs are saying that they cannot understand the Biden administration’s reluctance to re-designate the Houthi militia as a terrorist organization, particularly after the recent drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

To many, the hesitation of the Biden administration is incomprehensible. The White House and the National Security Council are apparently open to redesignating the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization” while the State Department supports targeting specific Houthi leaders with sanctions. The question is why? One could do both.

Another question is: Has the Yemen crisis become a political issue rather than a humanitarian one?

Moreover, why are aid organizations insisting on aid coming through Hodeidah port when there are six ports (Aden, al-Mukalla, al-Salif, Nishtun, and al-Shihr); land border inflows via al-Wadiah and al-Khadra (on the Saudi border) and Shahan and Serfit (on the Omani border); plus aerial deliveries via Marib?

Judging from the Houthis’ recent heightened aggression, many in the Arab world are asking: why are the Houthis not immediately being designated as a “foreign terrorist organization” again?

Isn’t this a “humanitarian” position really a political choice in favor of the terrorist organization, the Houthis? Should the U.S. instead not be finding the best means to deliver aid to the suffering people of Yemen?

Encouraging terrorism

The Arabs are also warning that Biden’s decision last year to delist the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization” has only encouraged the militia to pursue its aggression against the Yemeni people — the very people about whom the Biden administration is claiming to have “humanitarian” concerns — as well as the neighboring countries.

“Biden’s decision to remove the Iranian-backed Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations has encouraged the militia to expand its terrorist operations, especially against the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, wrote Emirati political analyst Dr. Amal Al-Haddabi.

Al-Haddabi argued that the terrorist attacks of the Houthis against Emirati civilian facilities during the past weeks, and the ongoing crimes against the people of Yemen and Saudi, “constitutes conclusive evidence of the nature of this terrorist militia.”

“However, international moves aimed at classifying the Houthi militia as a terrorist organization are still slow and disproportionate to the [Houthi] militia’s crimes, which constitute a flagrant violation of international law and a real threat to civilian facilities, energy supplies and economic stability.”

Al-Haddabi warned that the failure of the Biden administration and the international community to designate the Houthi militia as a terrorist organization poses “a threat to regional peace and security and harms international peace and security.”

The Houthi terrorist attacks, she added, prove that the Biden administration’s assumption that the militia can be dealt with as if it were a partner for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Yemen is wrong.

“The Biden administration has forgotten that militias are an arm of external forces that use them to achieve their own agendas, and they are not concerned with the interests of the Yemeni people or their need for peace and development,” Al-Haddabi said, noting that Biden recently stated that his administration was considering the possibility of putting the Houthis back on the terrorism list.

“All the requirements and conditions for designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization are available, and Biden sees them clearly… In Yemen, it is difficult to list all the crimes committed by these militias against civilians.”

“According to statistics and data announced by the Arab Coalition Forces to support legitimacy in Yemen, the Houthi militia launched 372 ballistic missiles and 659 booby-trapped drones towards Saudi Arabia by the end of January 2022. These are just examples of Houthi crimes.

“The international community in general, and the U.S. in particular, has become fully aware of the terrorist nature of the Houthi militia, and therefore this awareness must be accompanied by a serious and quick move to classify this militia as a terrorist organization.”

“This move will not harm efforts for reaching a peaceful settlement in Yemen. On the contrary, it will be a decisive and firm message from the international community that it will not accept this terrorist behavior from the Houthis. The inclusion of militias on terrorist lists will limit Iran’s financial and military support for the Houthis.”

‘Iran’s arms in the region’

Egyptian political scientist Ali Al-Din Hilal said that he, too, cannot understand why the Biden administration has still not redesignated the Houthis: “How much time,” he asked, “does the Biden administration need to make a decision [to reinstate the Houthis to the terrorism list]?” he asked.

Hilal noted that Biden removed the Houthis from the terrorism list one month after taking office on the pretext that he wanted to contain the organization and open channels of communication with it.

“The removal of the organization from the list of terrorism did not result in a change in the Houthi militia’s behavior,” he wrote. “It continued to reject all initiatives and proposals for a ceasefire and the start of political negotiations to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict [in Yemen]”.

“The Houthis rejected and blocked all initiatives from the United Nations and the U.S. Then there are the Houthis’ attempts to disrupt navigation in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait [in the Red Sea, between Yemen to the east and Africa to the west] and threaten ships,” he added.

The Egyptian political scientist also noted that the Houthis attacked the U.S. embassy building in Sana’a last November, looting its contents and detaining a number of Yemeni workers.

“The Houthi militia is one of Iran’s arms in the region and a tool for implementing its policy, and the attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE are not limited to destabilizing security in the region, but also aim to pressure Washington and influence its positions in the Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear issue… The civilian targets that were attacked are close to populated areas, which makes the attack on them a terrorist act. The seriousness of this matter increases as the Houthi militia may expand its attacks,” he stated.

Biden didn’t learn the lesson

Emile Amen, another Egyptian writer and researcher, urged the Biden administration not to waste more time.

According to Amen, Biden wasted a whole year believing that he could extend the olive branch to Iran’s mullahs by removing the Houthis from the terrorism list as a way of paving the way for a nuclear deal with Tehran.

“The current situation is no longer bearable for new American diplomatic approaches with the Houthis,” he said.

“The Biden administration must quickly characterize the Houthi militia as one of the major terrorist forces of evil. Afterwards, the Biden administration should return to supporting the path of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition Forces…

“The great and original sin of the Democratic Party today is the harmful role played by the left-wing Democrats who are pressuring Biden not to designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization.”

Amen said that Biden did not learn the lesson from Barack Obama’s experience “because the infamous agreement with Iran in 2015 did not lead to Iran’s retreat from supporting its proxies in the region and its growing terrorism, especially after it received billions of dollars that were frozen in the U.S.”

“The Biden administration cannot argue by saying that it does not want to get involved in Yemen. This is a version that takes us back to the philosophy of Barack Obama, known as the ‘leading from behind,’ which led to the exacerbation of the crises in Syria, Yemen and other places. The Biden administration should quickly and without any delay classify the Houthis as a terrorist group.”

‘Hitler of the Middle East’

Saudi columnist Professor Mohammed Mufti stressed that the “rogue regime” in Iran does not seem to be deterred by the talk about economic sanctions because anyway it does not care about the welfare of its people:

“On the contrary, the Iranian regime is good at exploiting the weapon of sanctions imposed by Western countries to further humiliate its people… At a time when Western countries — through the Vienna negotiations — are desperate to reach an agreement that would ensure Iran’s nuclear restraint, the Iranian regime, through its proxies and military arms, continues to attack the sovereignty of many neighboring countries, including, of course, some Gulf countries.”

“This clearly shows Iran’s indifference to what is happening at the negotiating table and proves that Tehran views the negotiations only through a unilateral perspective — to lift the economic sanctions imposed on it without making any serious concessions.”

Mufti noted that Iran has continued to develop its nuclear activities unabated and without interruption despite the ongoing negotiations in Vienna.

“With each new round of negotiations, Iran consolidates its gains and accelerates its destructive project [in the region]. With each new round of negotiations, the situation deteriorates more and more until it appears as if there is no solution.”

Former Jordanian minister of culture Saleh Al-Kallab also warned against Iran’s dangerous ambitions in Arab countries:

“Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has come to consider himself the president of Lebanon, Syria and other Arab countries, and this is because he relies on 90,000 [members of] forces affiliated with Tehran…”

“Unfortunately, Iran has actually achieved some of its colonial aspirations, especially in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran has also tried to create unrest in other Arab counties. It has become a very dangerous occupation state. It has become more dangerous to the Arabs than the ‘Zionist enemy.'”

“When Iran’s Supreme Leader is described as the ‘Hitler of the Middle East,’ this is not a departure from the truth. Iran is no longer a neighboring and brotherly border state as some believed. It has become an authoritarian and tyrannical state in this region. The problem is that Iran has infiltrated some Arab countries in the political, security and military fields.”

Sense of betrayal

Sawsan Al-Sha’er, a prominent journalist and author from Bahrain, warned that any attempt to deal with the Iranian regime on a rational basis is doomed to failure. “They [the Iranians] are exporting assassination squads, weapons and drugs to any part of the world,” Al-Sha’er wrote.

Yemeni politician Mujib Al-Maqtari said that designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization will isolate the militia and stifle its foreign funds and Iranian support. He pointed out that the crimes committed by the Houthis since 2014 amount to crimes of international terrorism, including the recruitment of children and targeting civilian facilities with ballistic missiles.

“Categorizing the Houthi militia as a terrorist group will paralyze its movements, and freeze internal support or local financiers,” Al-Maqtari said. “It will place all groups and individuals who support them under sanctions by freezing their assets and property.”

These voices from the Arab world articulate a profound concern on the part of Arabs about the Biden administration’s attitude towards Iran and the Houthi terrorist militia. For these Arabs, the Biden administration cares little for the security and stability of its friends and allies in the Arab world.

If and when the Biden administration signs a new deal with Iran, the sense of betrayal in the Arab world is extremely likely to broaden. The U.S. may then find out that it is the Americans who have been delisted as untrustworthy friends and allies by the people of the Middle East.