Security, Middle East
Inaction is not an option.
While Iranian and North Korean diplomatic maneuvering distracts the world, the Trump Administration is in serious talks with Gulf Arab officials about widening the war in Yemen.
Americans unfamiliar with Yemen should take more of an interest—at the far south of the Arabian Peninsula, where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, this former U.S. ally has collapsed into chaos. Nearly every Middle Eastern and East African nation has sent troops or arms to one side of Yemen’s war or the other. On one side are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and several other Arab states. On the other are Iran, its largest proxy militia, and Al Qaeda’s most dangerous offshoot. It is a scene of large-scale daily battles of brigades backed by planes and tanks—some in vast deserts, others in the ruins of large cities.
The United States is deeply involved. America sends special forces on deadly raids and drones with hellfire missiles to attack Al Qaeda and other terrorists. The United States also refuels Saudi and UAE warplanes, supplies spare parts and avionics, and provides significant ammunition and equipment. Allied forces fighting in Yemen are believed to be among the world’s largest customers for the U.S. military “Meals Ready to Eat,” known as MREs.
A new debate in Washington asks whether to increase American involvement. Specifically, should the U.S. support a massive operation to retake Hodeidah, Yemen’s fourth-largest city of four hundred thousand people and a port that serves as a lifeline for all UN and international non-governmental assistance? Iran-backed Houthi fighters hold the city and will not surrender it easily. They are threatening another Stalingrad, should the allies attempt to enter. Their motivation is clear—Hodeidah is “the vein that the Houthis are benefiting from,” one Yemeni official told the Wall Street Journal. Without it, Iran will be hard pressed to supply its proxies and continue its war.
Inaction is not an option. Houthis have threatened shipping that passes by Hodeidah, including vast supplies of food and fuel bound for America’s NATO allies in Europe via the Suez Canal. Yet Trump officials have thus far avoided committing to their Saudi and UAE allies. Pressure is mounting to do so. Gulf Arab military and political leaders believe a decisive victory at Hodeidah would push the war into an endgame phase, providing a path to checkmate. No one doubts, however, that the endeavor will be costly.