Operation Prosperity Guardian: Another Headache For Arab Nations (I)

US-Led Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea.

The military intervention by the joint U.S.-Europe coalition in Yemen created yet another high-tension spot in the Middle East. That signaled the intention to solve the Arab-Israel conflict by military means, creating another threat in the region. The countries surrounding Yemen have no clear position about the root cause of the Red Sea crisis, but for the most part, believe that it was a logical consequence of the HAMAS-Israel conflict. Some countries blame al-Qassam Brigades’ militants, but in reality, the original cause lies far deeper: in the abnormal, decades-long occupation of Palestine by Israel, a state that was created, in essence, under the UN mandate. Their current government, none the less, is completely disregarding declarations and resolutions made by the Secretary General, António Guterres.

Experts believe that the high tension spot around the Red Sea is another proof of fragility of the regional status quo. Yemen… Political schism, war, foreign intervention attempts, and a humanitarian catastrophe that affected the majority (80%, if we trust the UN estimates) of the population did not make its citizens waver in their position toward their co-sufferers in Gaza. Operation Swords of Iron that Israel had launched provoked a surge in both anti-Israel sentiment and civic activism. A movement emerged in 14 out of the 22 Yemeni provinces that in 2016 had been used by the Ansar Allah Houthis, allied with the former ruling party, the National Dialogue Conference, as the base for a coalition aiming to restore Yemen’s recognized Constitution, that brought together former military and regular citizens. The Sanaa regime, that the joint Arab coalition waged war on at the legitimate Yemeni government’s request, suddenly became a point of interest for the entire world.

The overt support of the Palestinian resistance from the international community empowered the Yemeni government and propelled it to action. The ideological foundations of the movement started developing and improving, and the status of the government forces went up all around Yemen. The declared political and ideological consolidation of the society against the U.S. and Europe christened by the Yemeni government as “accomplices to crimes against humanity” gave them grounds to call on all Arab nations to join their forces in order to “throw the Israeli yoke off the Arab shoulders, and earn freedom unknown to the nations since the moment that state had been founded.” Yemeni leaders themselves directly emphasized the leading role of their country, while condemning the actions of other Arab nations that hoped to normalize the relations with Israel. After trying, unsuccessfully, to launch missiles into Israel, they decided to block the logistics that uphold the Israel regime. Europe bore the collateral damage, but for the Ansar Allah leader, that was the point.

The Houthis has been calling for mass protests and rallies focused on rallying up the society, since the war began. In order to coordinate the protestors rallying up against the Israeli campaign against the Gaza Strip, the Yemeni government had to set up a dedicated Al-Aqsa Support Committee. That approach demonstrated the seriousness of their intention to sacrifice the protestors for the good of the country, because mass public gatherings are traditionally where you can hit your opponent the hardest.

Nevertheless, the approach chosen by the Yemeni government is dictated more by the Quranism principles than anything else. These principles, based on the imperative to restructure every believer’s consciousness in line with the Holy Quran’s moral values, were first posited by Zaidi Hussein al-Houthi (1959–2004), the founder of the movement. The movement now is led by a Zaidi who follows the values declared by Hussein back in 2002, “Allah is the greatest! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse to the Jews! Victory to Islam!” This slogan has become the Houthi movement trademark; with time, banners with it started appearing in public institutions. With the start of the military operation in the Red Sea, the Yemeni society adopted the “triune evil” concept. It means the U.S., Israel and the UK. Despite the overt overlap between the interests of the Houthi movement and Iran, the Houthis are not Iranian “proxies”. The Houthis’ authentic nature is obvious from how radicalized they are, how they position themselves amid the tangle of Shia and Sunni strains of the modern political Islam, as well as secular ideologies, including nationalism and anti-colonialism.

That unorthodox approach to foreign policy was what enabled the Houthis to boldly take on the military coalition formed by the leading Western nations. But that is also the Achilles heel of the movement: overextending their reach and overestimating their capabilities, which will lead to unsustainable losses. The act in open defiance of the nations that are far stronger technologically, economically and militarily is a risky proposition, but it is justified by strengthening the movement’s position in the Islamic world.

The attempts to pressure Israel are also a representation of Ansar Allah leadership’s focus on improving their political image in the eyes of their own populace. As an organization that is at once political and religious, they must follow their founder’s principles. Nevertheless, even after the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared the creation of the American/British coalition supposed to ensure safe maritime traffic in the Red Sea, Muhammad Abd al-Salam, an official Houthi representative, said that “the goal of the coalition is to serve as a cover for Israel, to unlawfully militarize the Red Sea, but that will not stop Yemen from providing legitimate support for the Gaza population.”

In that context, Yemen is now hostage to its own ideology: it has to fight Israel that it has declared one of its three principle enemies, but it also has a reputation to maintain in the eyes of its people: a population that saturated with ideological propaganda can react harshly to any steps it perceives as deviating from the founder’s principles. Do the current authorities, with their less than completely solidified position, need that?

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