I represent Yemen to the institutions of the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. It is, therefore, my duty to alert our European partners to the situation that Iranian-backed Houthi rebel militias are putting the Yemeni people in, and to the danger that this alliance with Tehran represents for regional balance.
Houthi-Iranian militia leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi has avoided all attempts to bring about a successfully negotiated solution. He has refused all proposals and peace initiatives issued by the legitimate government of Yemen, the Arab coalition that supports us, and the United Nations.
Instead of assuming his responsibilities and adopting a constructive attitude towards the resolution of the conflict, he isolates himself. He is currently hiding underground, seemingly unconcerned about the catastrophic humanitarian impact that he has brought upon innocent civilians. He believes himself to be carrying out a divine mission to govern Yemen and to then invade neighbouring countries.
This destructive attitude of the rebels is maintained by the Iranian government, Al-Houthi’s ally. Tehran is waging a proxy war, financing the rebels, supplying them with ammunition alongside military and political Iranian and Hezbollah advisors, without getting involved directly. We presented concession after concession to find a compromise with the Houthis, to spare the Yemeni people a seemingly avoidable war, but the rebels, following Tehran’s instructions, rejected everything. The stalemate of the war in Yemen is in fact suited to Iran, because it allows it to further destabilise the Arabian Peninsula, posing an existential threat to the Gulf region with wider regional implications affecting Europe and its neighbours.
The cynicism of the Iranian strategy does not stop there: by aggravating the humanitarian situation for the Yemeni civilian population, it wishes to arouse the sympathy of the West and present the putschist rebels as saviours of the country. Such manoeuvres are completely unacceptable; the stakes – the future of an entire country – are far too great for a fascist and brutal minority to seize power by force, with the complicity of a foreign power. The internationally recognised and legitimately elected government is in control of more than 85% of Yemeni territory.
The rebels’ attack on oil tankers using Iranian weapons on the 25th of July reminds us that the consequences of a Houthi takeover would go far further than Yemen. The Houthis pose a serious threat to international navigation. A substantial part of world trade passes through the Bab el Mandeb Strait off our shores. That’s why the control of the port city of Hodeidah is so important. It is in everyone’s interest that commercial shipping can continue safely, and therefore the reconquest of Hodeidah started in mid-June by the loyalist forces backed by the Arab coalition, must be successful.
The legitimate government and the Saudi-led coalition have continued to support the efforts of UN envoy Martin Griffiths while sustaining slow and careful military pressure on the Houthis to negotiate. Griffiths has recently made attempts, once again, to persuade the militia to withdraw from the port. This would involve the withdrawal of the armed troops and the return of the city to the government police, under the supervision of the United Nations, to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian aid is carried out without delay (the port receives 70% of all international assistance to Yemen).
This military pressure successfully brought the rebels to the negotiating table, and Mr Griffiths made two additional visits to Sana’a to present his plan to Al-Houthi. Al-Houthi did not agree to meet in person, and Mr Griffiths found he had to settle for a teleconference, demonstrating the lack of seriousness with which the Houthi leader approached the opportunity to reach a settlement. Once again, the talks stalled, maintaining an intolerable situation for ordinary Yemeni citizens. They are living at the mercy of a leaderless concerned with their future than his own – a leader who profits too much from conflict to be attracted to peace. For their sake, we cannot allow this status-quo to continue.
Here, I appeal to the European Union and its member states to pressure the Iranian regime to push Al-Houthi to negotiate and to immediately stop supporting the putschist rebels, whose action threatens to extend beyond our land borders, and could cripple global maritime trade.
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