The Houthis hold freedom of navigation hostage to press for a ceasefire in Gaza. The West responds with bombs on Houthi facilities in Yemen. How is this conducive to peace in our time?
J anuary 13 marked the second US military action in two days against the Houthis, the Iran-backed Yemeni militant group that effectively controls all of Yemen. This doesn’t feel a gentle glide towards peace.
In fact, as David Rundell, a former chief of mission at the US embassy Riyadh has noted: escalation is not the answer. Preparing for war is no recipe for peace.
Mr Rundell’s call for sanity and moderation is striking for three reasons: first, because of his seniority in the American Foreign Service. In fact, some of the ventures with which he is now associated describe him as “Longest serving US Diplomat ever in Saudi Arabia”.
Second, because he was posted in the very region of which he speaks, so his expertise is undeniable.
Third, he is clear-eyed enough to see the problems that come with the US and UK going it alone with military strikes on the Houthis.
Mr Rundell has been urgently banging the drum for jaw-jaw, not war-war. On BBC domestic radio, he pointed out the US and UK’s isolation in dealing with the Houthis. Washington, D.C. and London are shortsighted in responding to the Houthis’ demand for a ceasefire in Gaza with military strikes, he said. That’s not conducive to peace but to war, and Britain and America will do it alone, much of the world doesn’t agree with this course of action.
And in a recent piece for UnHerd, Mr Rundell pointed out the United States’ decade of flip-flopping on Saudi Arabia’s attempt to prevent the Houthi takeover of Yemen. Consequently, Saudi and the United Arab Emirates went off and worked out “a fragile peace with Iran”, brokered by China. Now, they are sitting this particular confrontation out. This despite the Saudi and Emiratis’ “long history of cooperation with the US Navy”. But “they have politely declined to join Operation Prosperity Guardian, the US-led attempt to protect Red Sea shipping. They are even less likely to participate in any offensive actions against the Houthis,” Mr Rundell writes.
Mr Rundell has made a passionate plea for the deployment of diplomats: “Finding a solution is a job for creative diplomats, not admirals. Support for a more multinational operation need not involve sending ships: statements of public support condemning maritime terrorism would help, so would financial contributions and logistical support. The justification to emphasise is that the war in Gaza and piracy in the Red Sea are two different issues and that secure global trade is in everyone’s interest. Before we enter yet another easily expandable armed conflict, we should use diplomacy to convince the rest of the world of this.”