The main concern for the Arabs is that the "humiliating" manner in which the US ended its presence in Afghanistan has sent a message to Iran and its proxies -- Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis -- that the Americans are not only weak, but that they cannot be trusted to support or defend their allies. Pictured: Shrapnel-riddled glass at Saudi Arabia's Abha Airport, damaged in a drone attack launched by the Houthis from Yemen, which wounded eight people on August 31, 2021. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images)
Is there a connection between the hasty and disorganized US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the increased attacks on Saudi Arabia by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen?
Many Arabs political analysts and writers are convinced that the Biden administration's flawed handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, which resulted in the Taliban takeover of the whole country, has emboldened various extremist Islamic groups, including the Houthis, who are now threatening Washington's Arab friends and allies.
The Houthis have been fighting the Saudi-led coalition-backed government in Yemen since 2015.
The main concern for the Arabs is that the "humiliating" manner in which the US ended its presence in Afghanistan has sent a message to Iran and its proxies -- Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis -- that the Americans are not only weak, but that they cannot be trusted to support or defend their allies.
The Iran-backed Houthis appear to be telling themselves: If the US is so weak and has no problem betraying its allies and friends, perhaps this is the right time to step up the attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The past few days have witnessed a significant escalation in the attacks of the Houthi militia in Yemen against civilian areas in Saudi Arabia.
The destinations included oil facilities inside Saudi Arabia. On September 5, the Saudis announced that they intercepted a ballistic missile and armed drones that were fired by the Houthis in Yemen at the oil-rich Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, home to significant oil infrastructure. Two children were injured.
A few days earlier, the Houthi terrorists carried out a drone attack on Saudi Arabia's Abha Airport, injuring eight people and damaging aircraft. The airport has been targeted on several occasions in the past. In 2019, at least 20 people were injured in a similar drone attack on the airport.
The Arab Interior Ministers Council (AIMC) denounced "in the strongest terms" the repeated terrorist acts carried out by the Houthi militia on Saudi Arabia. According to Al Ahram:
"In a statement issued Sunday [Sept. 5], the AIMC's General Secretariat stressed the need to hold accountable perpetrators of these terrorist acts and heinous war crimes.
"The Council renewed absolute support for all measures taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to preserve its lands, facilities and the safety of its citizens and residents."
"The scenes of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan carried many messages to the Iranian regime," said Saudi writer Fahd Deepaji.
"The withdrawal of the US troops reinforced the hypotheses and possibilities of Iran's renewed expansion to complete a project initiated by the administration of former US President Barack Obama to enable political Islam to rule the region".
Deepaji pointed out that the Biden administration had already sent another message to Iran and its proxies when it removed the Houthi militia from the list of terrorist organizations.
"This negligent handling by the US and the West made the Houthis falsely present themselves to the world as a strong party... The Houthi effort escalated and became bolder after the recent events in Afghanistan and the US defeat there. Now the US administration has an opportunity to show that its understanding of Yemen was wrong by declaring that it will not allow armed terrorist militias to impose a fait accompli on Yemeni soil...
"[N]o one in the world understands the terrorist Houthi mentality as does the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has warned and continues to warn of its danger. The terrorism of Iran's proxies is one and indivisible, and the weakness and blindness of the West has not changed towards the Houthi militia and the Iranian regime."
Veteran Lebanese journalist and political analyst Kheirallah Kheirallah wondered whether the US, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, will continue to play the role of a bystander "at a time when there is no indication that the Houthis will stop their aggressive policy aimed at imposing a fait accompli [Iranian rule] on the Arabian Peninsula," which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, as well as the southern portions of Iraq and Jordan.
Kheriallah believes that the US will not be able to do anything against the Houthi threat unless it takes into account that Iran is determined to use Yemen as a main card in imposing its conditions on the Biden administration. "Iran sees a new opportunity to advance in Yemen and consolidate its presence there," he added.
"At this particular stage, there is an opportunity for the US administration to act and show that its understanding of Yemen is better than its understanding of Afghanistan, and that it will not allow Iran to impose a fait accompli in Yemen. There is no doubt that the Yemeni situation is extremely complex and that there is an unparalleled human tragedy in this impoverished country. This should not prevent the US from adopting a new, clearer and more understandable approach to what is at stake in Yemen, an approach that shows that Afghanistan's defeat does not mean a paralysis of US foreign policy or surrender to Iran, which is working to perpetuate a reality in Yemen that resembles the reality of Hamas's control of the Gaza Strip since 2007."
The Houthi militia was among the first Islamist groups to welcome the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the US "defeat." The militia indicated that it has been inspired by the Taliban's alleged victory.
Commenting on the fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, Mohammed Abdul Salam, a spokesman for the Houthi militia, wrote:
"Every occupation has an end. America is now reaping failure after 20 years of occupying Afghanistan, so do the countries of aggression consider this?"
Abdul Salam's threat was directed mainly toward Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of nine countries to stop the Houthis from taking control over Yemen. The message that the Houthi spokesman is sending: Our Iranian-backed terrorist group will follow the example of Afghanistan and defeat America's friends, specifically the Saudis.
Another Houthi official, Abdul-Malek Al-Ejri, reminded the Saudi-led coalition of the US fate in Afghanistan:
"Countries of aggression [members of the Saudi-led coalition] have two options in Yemen: either they leave by agreement, as America did in Afghanistan, or with no honor, as in Vietnam."
Yemeni journalist Zakaria Al-Kamali expressed fear of what he called "the Afghanization of Yemen."
"It is certain that the Houthis will import more experiences of the Afghan chaos and begin to implement them in the Yemeni territories," Al-Kamali cautioned, adding that it was obvious that the Houthi leaders are "jealous of the Taliban's security achievement in Afghanistan."
"The Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia fall under the category of war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Emirati writer Mohammed Khalfan Al-Sawafi, who also believes that the Iranian-backed militia is seeking to copy the Afghanistan model.
"They [the Houthis] aim to serve ideological and political goals of the Iranian regime. The terrorist Houthi militia is not different from other armed factions loyal to the Iranian regime in the region, such as the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq. All of these proxies practice the most heinous crimes and violations against civilians, whether in Iraq, Syria or Yemen. The logic of the Houthis and Iran is only understood in the context of their hostility to humanity. They are trying to pressure the Arab coalition forces and the entire international community by targeting civilians, including children, in order for the Iranian regime to try to impose its vision on the region."
What the Arabs find most disturbing is that the Biden administration has failed to take a tough stance against the increased Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. So far, the Biden administration has responded to the attacks by issuing laconic statements describing the drone and missile attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia as "unacceptable."
Iran, the Houthis and the Taliban must be laughing uncontrollably as they watch the Biden administration blunder the situation in Afghanistan and Yemen. At stake here is not only the credibility of the US, but the security and stability of America's Arab allies and friends who have been left alone to face Iran -- which is leveraging the weakness and confusion in the Biden administration to extend its control more widely.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.