At last, U.S. Envoy Timothy Lenderking has realized that Iran is not interested in ending the war in Yemen. In an interview with Al-Arabiyah, Lenderking demonstrated yet again that the Biden administration doesn’t really know Iran and doesn’t want to know the truth about what’s happening in Yemen where the Houthis function as Iran’s pawn.
Americans need to understand the reality in Yemen, which is that the Islamic Republic is not in a hurry to rejoin talks about its nuclear program and that Yemen is merely one card in Iran’s game against America. The Islamic Republic might decide to rejoin the nuclear talks in Vienna in the next few days, or it might come up with excuses to avoid doing so. Until Iran reaches a decision about the negotiations, there won’t be any sign of progress in Yemen, where 16 million citizens go to bed hungry. Iran has its own calculations to consider, whether in Yemen or elsewhere.
It remains to be seen whether Iran’s calculations are sound, whether time is on its side, and whether it is true that the United States has no other option but to succumb to Iran’s conditions.
It must be noted that there has been a lot of American talk about other options available to the administration should Iran continue stonewalling. All the same, there has been no sign that the Biden administration has developed a clear position that unambiguously spells out what it requires from Iran.
The main point of contention between Tehran and Washington is starting to become clear. It has to do with U.S. consent to Iran’s emphatic demand to return to the original nuclear deal signed in the summer of 2015 without making any changes to its text. The agreement reached between the Islamic Republic and the P5 + 1 (the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany) placed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. However, it made no mention of Iran’s conduct in the region. Yet, this conduct is precisely what countries in the region are complaining about as they do not consider Iran’s nuclear program their top priority.
What countries in the region realize, and what the United States has later come to realize, is that it’s not possible to negotiate one issue at a time with Iran, and that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be separated from its behavior. Naturally, this calls for taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, drones, and the sectarian militias Iran uses to destroy specific Arab countries from within. Among such countries are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Moreover, Iran is using these militias to threaten other countries, like the case of Saudi Arabia and the threats it faces from Yemen.
After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the disastrous turn it took, the Biden administration’s wavering positions on Syria and Iraq, and its move to pull France out of a submarine deal with Australia, the U.S. allies in the Gulf region have had no recourse but to exercise caution. If the United States wants to maintain the trust of its Arab allies, it has no choice but to refuse to surrender to Iran, especially in Yemen. If nothing else, doing so would mean a lot to all Arab countries that are still endeavoring to preserve themselves. The fact of the matter is that every country in the region is trying to protect itself from Iran and its militias, which have tampered with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and which very nearly destroyed the peaceful Kingdom of Bahrain.
A lot will ride on how the Biden administration deals with Iran. This will determine whether the current administration still cares about the region and has a vested interest in maintaining a relationship with its allies, or whether those allies need to fend for themselves and stop worrying about preserving their relationship with Washington.
The Biden administration’s position on the Houthis in Yemen is frightening. The Houthis, who call themselves the Ansarallah group, are besieging the city of Ma’rib, and there’s nothing to suggest they are willing to disappoint Iran, which is determined to see Ma’rib fall. Washington is merely issuing statements every now and then to stress how important it is for the Houthis to commit to a cease-fire and enter negotiations. This is what the U.S. envoy for Yemen recently did, but who’s to say the Houthis are willing to negotiate before the fall of Ma’rib? America is acting as if the Houthis had autonomy over their decisions and Iran had nothing to do with the Houthis and their decisions.
In short, the moment of truth is fast approaching for the Biden administration, and much will depend on the U.S. position regarding negotiations with Iran. Iran is in no hurry. In turn, the Biden administration should demonstrate that it is equally in no hurry and has means other than goodwill gestures to pressure the Islamic Republic into rejoining negotiations.
It is clear that Iran is not joking and that it has chosen to escalate the situation in several arenas, Yemen included. Iran is playing its various cards in the region to prove that it is the main player in Iraq, where it is seemingly displeased with the results of the recent elections. It is playing its cards in Syria, where it is actively engaging in the war against the Syrian people and proving daily that it is the true guardian of Bashar Assad and his regime. It is also playing its cards in Lebanon, where Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah never misses a chance to reconfirm the saying, “I am Lebanon and Lebanon is me” and that the Iranian occupation of the country is here to stay.
There is no need to bring up Yemen again or what the Houthis, who are nothing but a pawn of Iran, are doing there. Yes, Iran is not joking, and it is escalating the situation in Yemen and elsewhere. Can the Biden administration show Iran, this time with action and not just with words, that it, too, is not joking and knows exactly what’s at stake in the region where the Islamic Republic presses on with its expansionist agenda?