Transcript: Crisis in Yemen: A Strategic Threat to U.S. Interests and Allies?

Transcript: Crisis in Yemen: A Strategic Threat to U.S. Interests and Allies?

By Michael Doran and Lee Smith

LEE SMITH: Thank you very much for coming. Welcome to Hudson Institute. And we have a fantastic panel today. Fatima, who is – her first time at Hudson, thank you very much for coming, Fatima Abo Alasrar. To her left is Bernie Haykel, who has come all the way down from Princeton University. Thank you very much for being here, as well. And to the far left is my Hudson colleague, Michael Doran, a senior fellow here. And I thank you very much for coming. And the topic is – will be “Crisis In Yemen: A Strategic Threat To U.S. Interests And Allies?” And I hope that will pose some more interesting questions this afternoon to come to different answers. Thinking about maybe 1:15, we may be able to open it up to questions from the audience. So if you have something in mind, if you want to take notes and ask something of one of our panelists, write it down and keep it in mind, and we’ll see how the time is going. Right now, why don’t we begin with Professor Haykel? Bernie, if you’d like to begin?

BERNARD HAYKEL: All right. Thank you. Thank you. It is also my first time here.

SMITH: Oh, I didn’t know. Thank you. Thank you for being here. I’m glad we were able to get you here.

HAYKEL: So I’ve been tasked with giving some background on Yemen, the history, the Houthis, their relationship with Iran, how the Saudis see Yemen. So a couple of broad brushstrokes – first, Yemen is a really complicated country. Most countries are, but this one is particularly complicated because of its tribal, social, religious structure. In Yemen, you now have in the north a group called the Houthis. They like to call themselves Ansar Allah. They’re a group that belong to a particular caste of Yemeni society. This caste had ruled Yemen for over a thousand years, was displaced in 1962 with the revolution and then discriminated and – against and marginalized from roughly the late ’60s until the early 2000s, when they rose up again. And they rose up again politically by becoming very clearly influenced by Iran’s revolutionary ideology. I’ve been reading, for an article that I’m writing, all the speeches and lesson notes of the founder of this movement, a man called Hussein Houthi, and it’s very clear that he draws inspiration from Ayatollah Khomeini – quotes him almost exclusively in a lot of his speeches and has a worldview that is very much drawn from a Khomeini-like view of the world. And that view of the world is one in which the United States and Israel – but also Jews, in the case of the Houthis – are enemies of both Yemen and of the Arabs and of Islam and of all Muslims.

So that connection, ideological connection, was then cemented firmly from the middle of the 1990s, when links were established between various Zaidis – this is the community that the Houthis belong to – and Hezbollah in Lebanon. That connection is not just ideological, but it’s also a connection where Hezbollah provided military training but also ideological and media training so that the Houthis and their allies have all their centers for information dissemination, television stations based in the southern suburbs of Beirut in Hezbollah land. So it’s very clear that that’s a connection that – I know it’s been often questioned by people here in D.C. But if you read Arabic and if you listen to actually what the Houthis write and say, there’s no doubt that that connection with the broader world of Iran and of its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere exists, and it’s a very solid connection. So I’m also of the view that the Houthis are – although they’re not a majority, they’re a small group in Yemen. They are the most disciplined and best trained and most ideologically motivated group in Yemen and are unlikely to be defeated militarily.

So, as a result, I think that other ways of dealing with them by the Saudis, by the United Arab Emirates, by the GCC and the United States has to be – have to be conceived, have to be thought of. And then, in the biggest and most macro sense, the problem of Yemen is a structural problem of the Gulf Cooperation Council. You have the most populous nation in Arabia, which is Yemen, that is the poorest and has never been fully integrated into the labor market of the GCC, has never been fully integrated into the economies of the GCC. And then to really ultimately tackle the long-term problems that are structural, developmental, economic and political, it – you need a GCC-wide approach to tackling Yemen. It is the GCC – that is, the Gulf Cooperation Council – countries that will ultimately have to pay the price for rebuilding Yemen, for fixing Yemen and for getting beyond this stage. How we get there, though, is, you know, the big question. And it’s clear that the Saudis from what I can tell are never going to let go of the war there because they see the Houthis as a beachhead for the Iranians, an attempt by the Iranians to create a Hezbollah-like force in Yemen on their southern borders with which to then create a serious security – a national security threat to the Saudis through missiles like Hezbollah does with Israel. And that, I think, has to be appreciated. And unless one takes into account how the Saudis see this situation, one can’t think beyond a solution, beyond the solution of warfare. And that’s what I think needs to be – to be done at this stage. So I’ll end there.

You can read the full opinion article at Hudson Institute here.

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