EDITORIAL: Congress Emboldens Iran in the Name of Peace in Yemen
Originally published in the Wall Street Journal on June 25, 2019 here.
With tensions escalating in the Middle East, Congress is emboldening Iran by sending the wrong message about Yemen. Last week the Senate voted to halt military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Earlier this year, President Trump was forced to veto a congressional resolution aimed at ending U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Congress evidently can’t separate its response to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi from the threats posed by the Houthis, Iranians and terrorists in Yemen. This is no time to be sending mixed messages to Tehran.
I know Yemen. I worked there as an undercover Central Intelligence Agency officer in the aftermath of the deadly 2000 bombing by al Qaeda of the USS Cole in the port of Aden. Since 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthi government attacked Yemen’s internationally recognized government and seized the capital, Sana’a, the country has descended into a humanitarian crisis that is among the world’s worst. According to the United Nations, some 24 million people need humanitarian assistance and protection, mostly in Houthi-held territory. An estimated 7.4 million need treatment for malnutrition, including two million children under 5. The Houthis’ extensive use of land mines has killed and maimed civilians and left vulnerable communities cut off from their crops, clean water and humanitarian aid.
Iran has capitalized on the suffering. Tehran is turning Yemen into a proxy state and haven for terrorist groups. This is what the Saudi-led coalition is fighting to prevent. Congressional efforts to end intelligence and logistics support for the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen are the wrong way to punish Riyadh for the murder of Khashoggi. I joined many of my colleagues in condemning this murder and have called for a change of course in Riyadh. Concerns about civilian casualties and other actions by the coalition are valid and deserve attention.
A more effective response from the U.S. would be to retain leverage over the coalition by continuing our support without engaging in active hostilities. The alternative is the radicalization of an entire generation of Yemenis. The Houthi movement’s slogan is “God is Great, death to America, death to Israel, curse upon the Jews, victory to Islam.” This ideology has shaped the education of children in areas of Yemen they control. Houthi schools force children to embrace this hateful slogan, which was inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution. The radicalization of Yemen’s youth represents a long-term threat to the region and U.S. interests that can’t be ignored.
Iran’s recent attempts to provoke a military conflict with the U.S. make it even more important for Congress to send a clear message regarding Yemen. As a first step, lawmakers should pass a resolution condemning the Houthis for human-rights violations and demanding they uphold their end of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire. This would show the world that the U.S. won’t accept Iranian efforts to sow chaos in the region.
No one should treat the malign regime in Iran as a victim. It is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. The terrorist groups and violent militias it supports have launched thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians and killed more than 600 American troops in Iraq. The focus on Iran’s nuclear program has often distracted from the Iranian conventional-missile program and support for terrorism that threatens our allies and destabilizes the Middle East.
If the Houthis win the civil war and consolidate control over all or part of Yemen, Iran would gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. From Saudi Arabia’s doorstep Iranian proxies would be able to threaten the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a strategic choke point connecting the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. With control of the strait, Iran could block shipping access to the Suez Canal and hold global commerce hostage. This must never be allowed to happen.
I hope my colleagues in Congress will join me in supporting a resolution condemning the Houthis for their actions and behavior in Yemen. It’s vital that we demonstrate our support for the Yemeni people and bolster the U.N. special envoy’s work. By taking a clear stand, we can protect American interests, stand up to Iran, aid our allies and alleviate the needless suffering of millions of innocent Yemenis.
Mr. Hurd, a Republican, represents Texas’ 23rd Congressional District.