President Joe Biden at a White House meeting, Jan. 31, 2022. (AP/Alex Brandon) (AP/Alex Brandon)
Joe Biden

Appeasing the Houthis and Iran is damaging American credibility in the Arab world.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute

On January 30, 2022, the Iran-backed militia, the Houthis in Yemen, launched a missile at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), for the third time in as many weeks.

Many Arabs say that they cannot understand why the Biden administration still has not re-designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, especially in the wake of the recent missile and drone attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The Arabs say that the Biden administration made a mistake when it decided last year to remove the Houthis from the international terrorist list.

The Biden administration’s move, they noted, has emboldened one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the Middle East and endangered international peace and security.

Some Arabs believe that the Biden administration’s lenient approach towards the Houthi militia is designed to appease the mullahs in Iran with the hope that they will sign a new nuclear deal with the U.S. and the other world powers.

The main message several Arab countries and political commentators and journalists are sending to the Biden administration: The Arabs have lost faith in the Americans because of their policies towards Iran and its terrorist proxies, including the Houthi militia in Yemen.

A second message the Arabs are sending to the Biden administration: There are no “good” and “bad” terrorists. The Arabs see no difference between the Houthis, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIS), Hezbollah and Hamas.

The third message from the Arabs to the Biden administration: Ultimately, the terrorism of Iran and its terrorist groups will reach the U.S., and, as with Afghanistan, it is the Biden administration that will justly be blamed.

‘What Is The Biden Administration Waiting For?’

The 22 members of the Arab League urged the Biden administration to re-classify the Iran-backed Houthi militia as a terrorist organization.

The appeal was issued after an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the “brutal and vicious terrorist attack on civilians and civilian targets.”

“[The attacks] constitute a violation of international law and international humanitarian law, and a real threat to vital civilian facilities, energy supplies and the stability of the global economy. They also constitute a threat to regional peace and security, undermine Arab national security, harm international peace and security, and pose a threat to international commercial shipping lines.”

Undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Information Najeeb Ghallab said that the Iranian-backed Houthi militia poses a danger to the world, and not only to Yemen.

“The Houthis are more dangerous than ISIS and Al-Qaeda because they are agents of a state (Iran) that is a member of the international community, and this state exports terrorism through its agents… The international community needs to take a deeper look at Iran and its export of terrorism through the proxies it supports in the Arab region, including the Houthi militia.”

The Yemeni official warned that Iran’s terrorism will spread to other parts of the world, including the U.S. He further warned that failure to take action against Iran and its terrorist groups would allow the Iranians to continue “spreading chaos, sabotage and terrorism.”

Atef Saadawy, an Egyptian strategic and international affairs expert, said he could not understand Biden’s reluctance to reconsider his decision last year to remove the Houthi militia from the terrorist list.

“What is the Biden administration waiting for in order to re-evaluate its position?… Does it want to continue being a spectator? Does it need more evidence of this group’s terrorism after what happened in the past few days? The [Houthi] terrorism has reached the depth of the most important Arab capitals, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.”

Saadawy also asked whether the Biden administration was waiting for the establishment of a terrorist entity in Yemen on the borders of its most important allies in the region.

Addressing the Biden administration, he went on to ask: “Are you waiting until the maritime navigation in the Red Sea becomes under the control and mercy of an armed militia?”

The time has come for the U.S. administration, Saadawy added, “to end its contradictory positions and flabby handling of the Yemeni crisis, which has exacerbated matters even more.”

The re-designation of the Houthi militia as a terrorist organization, the Egyptian expert said, “will contribute to putting an end to the actions of this terrorist militia and its supporters, neutralize its danger and end the serious violations it is carrying out against the Yemeni people. This will also facilitate the process of establishing peace in Yemen and a political solution that preserves its unity and territorial integrity and the security and stability of neighboring countries.”

‘The US Is Not Honest With Its Arab Allies’

Yemeni researcher Najeeb Al-Samawi added his voice to those of the Arabs, who are increasingly disillusioned and frustrated with the Biden administration’s ongoing attempts to placate Iran’s mullahs and their terrorist puppets.

The U.S. administration is not serious about protecting its Arab allies, Al-Samawi said, noting that he does not expect the Americans to re-designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization as long as Washington proceeds with its efforts to bring the mullahs back to the 2015 nuclear deal. “The U.S. is not honest with its [Arab] allies,” he lamented.

Prominent Egyptian writer, journalist and businessman Emad Adin Adib said that the Biden administration made a mistake by lifting the Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations.

The Middle East is experiencing “a state of great confusion” as a result of the policy of the Biden administration,” Adib cautioned.

The Biden administration, he recollected, was part of the team that negotiated the first nuclear agreement with Iran during the Obama administration.

“They [the Biden administration] feel that they are the godparents of the first agreement… What is happening now in Yemen is the responsibility of the U.S. because the Trump administration had classified the Houthi militia as terrorists. The first decision of the Biden administration, however, was to remove the Houthis from the list of terrorism, and this is a big mistake. Iran wants to use the Houthis to pressure the Americans to revive the nuclear deal.”

Echoing the disappointment of the Arabs with the Biden administration’s failure to stand with America’s allies, veteran Lebanese writer and political analyst Khairallah Khairallah reminded the Americans of the Houthi’s slogan: “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam.”

Khairallah said that U.S. condemnations of the Houthi missile and drone attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia are not enough.

“The condemnations remain condemnations in the absence of a practical position by the US administration towards Iran, which recently used its Houthi proxy to attack the UAE… It is certain that the UAE can defend itself, but it is also certain that the U.S. should stand with its allies when they are subjected to an aggression,” he said.

“The Biden administration is supposed to call things by their [true] names, especially with regard to the Houthis and their behavior,” Khairallah added. “The Biden administration needs to show that it knows what is happening in the Middle East, and that it is not a continuation of Barack Obama’s administration, which signed an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear file in the summer of 2015. That agreement, which provided the Iranian treasury with billions of dollars, was a gift to the Islamic Republic. Iran invested every dollar in the service of its expansion project [in the Arab countries] and the empowerment of its militias in the region.”

No Point In Appeasing Iran or the Houthis

According to the Lebanese writer, it has become clear that just as the Obama administration ignored the menacing and murderous nature of the Iranian regime, “the Biden administration appears to be more passive in dealing with its [Arab] allies with regard to the Yemen crisis.”

It is no secret, Khairallah stated, that the Houthis do not want peace in Yemen and that is why they are attacking Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“Moreover, it is no secret that the current U.S. administration is encouraging the Houthis to be more aggressive… They [the Houthis] are more hostile towards the U.S. itself. A few weeks ago, the Houthis stormed the U.S. embassy in [the Yemeni capital of] Sana’a. Not only did they search the embassy offices, but they also detained 20 local employees. It seems that the U.S. administration is still convinced that Iran wants an agreement in Vienna and that the Houthis are still searching for a peaceful solution in Yemen.”

Khairallah’s advice to the Biden administration: There is no point in trying to appease Iran or the Houthis because they will not change. The Biden administration, therefore, needs “to start getting to know the region from a realistic angle if it wants its allies to start taking it seriously.”

Eyad Abu Shakra, another Lebanese journalist and political commentator, said that Biden’s recent announcement that he is considering re-designating the Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization is “a step in the right direction.”

Abu Shakra pointed out that the actions and policies of all U.S. administrations since 2003 have been on the assumption that Iran was part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

“Within the Democratic Party, as well as within Washington’s lobbies and its research and intelligence centers, there is hostility towards the Gulf Cooperation Council states, specifically Saudi Arabia… This spontaneous hostility always leads to mistrust of Gulf intentions and to ignoring the presence of any aggressive intentions; and in the case of Yemen, it’s the Iranian regime.”

The administration of Joe Biden inherited its Middle Eastern staff almost entirely from the administration of Barack Obama, Abu Shakra wrote.

“It is known that the Obama administration adopted new concepts in its dealings with Middle Eastern issues, from Iran to Israel, passing through political Islam and other economic, political and security issues. These concepts were accompanied by the growing Russian and Chinese challenges in the region and Tehran’s acceleration of the pace of its occupation [of Arab countries].”

Many Arabs Lost Confidence in the US

Yemeni Minister for Legal Affairs and Human Rights Ahmad Arman also stressed the need to punish the Houthi militia, classify it as a terrorist group and dry up its funding and sources of arming.

In a message directed to the Biden administration and the international community, Arman pointed out that the crimes of the Houthis have exceeded those committed by ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

“The classification of the Houthi militia as a terrorist group is based on the provisions of international laws and agreements that define actions that constitute crimes of a terrorist nature and are classified as terrorist acts… It is time for the international community to take a serious and practical stance towards this terrorist group by drying up its sources of funding and cutting arms smuggling lines from any side, including the Iranian regime.”

He criticized the international community’s “indifference” towards Houthi terrorism and for keeping a terrorist group that is more extremist and criminal than Al-Qaeda and ISIS off the terrorism list, which contributed to the escalation of its attacks.

“The inaction of the international community and its failure to take a serious stance towards the crimes committed by the Houthi militia contributed to the group’s persistence and targeting of international trade routes,… The international community has failed to fulfill its duty to prevent and prosecute the Houthi group and its leaders, who are terrorists committing brutal violations and crimes that undermine international peace and security.”

These disturbing voices from the Arab world should serve as an alarm bell to the Biden administration and prompt it to quickly distance itself from Iran and its terrorist proxies in the Middle East.

Clearly, many Arabs have lost confidence in the U.S. because it has chosen to align itself with Iran, whose forces and militias are occupying Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon and are now targeting the UAE and Saudi Arabia — not to mention positioning themselves in America’s soft underbelly in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

In the eyes of these Arabs, the Biden administration is inflicting massive damage on U.S. interests and allies and helping Iran export its terrorism throughout the world.

It now remains to be seen whether anyone in the Biden administration will wake up to the magnitude of the Iranian threat and actions, redesignate the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and attempt to salvage the credibility of the United States.