EXCLUSIVE: Yemeni Minister Warns Against Ignoring Iran’s Death Threats
Iranian chants of ‘Death to the USA’ and ‘Death to Israel’ need to be taken seriously
In the relatively short span of time – soon to be five years – since the Shi’ite Houthis, the local Iranian-backed terror franchise, swept down from the mountains into the Yemeni capital Sana’a, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government were driven into exile while more than 24 million Yemeni residents have been thrust into a horrific humanitarian crisis.
The sole international effort to extricate the people of Yemen from the Houthi onslaught is a coalition of international air forces headed by Saudi Arabia. But cruelly, the carefully planned campaign of bombing runs set to save lives from the Houthi killing machine has itself resulted in countless civilian deaths and massive numbers of injuries. As a result, lawmakers from both sides of the US congressional aisle have sought – but failed — to legislate an end to American arms and supplies to the coalition, and the ability to refuel its planes.
His Excellency Moammar al-Eryani, minister of information for the Yemeni government, sat for an exclusive interview with The Media Line’s Felice Friedson at the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in London.
The Media Line: The Yemeni civil war, now in its 5th year, has produced staggering numbers: 24 million people in need of humanitarian aid; 12,000 civilian casualties. Does the world understand the Yemeni crisis?
Minister al-Eryani: Thank you so much for giving me this chance to speak to The Media Line, the well-known news agency. First, I have to go back more than four years to the root of this crisis. This war started in 2004, when the senior Houthi began to disseminate the Iranian ideology, exporting the Iranian revolution to Yemen. He started announcing in his chant: “Death to America and Death to Israel.” When Al-Houthi started to attract children to their ideology, the government started to confront them. The war stopped that time but restarted, and the Houthis started to expand more. Each time the war restarted, the international community interfered again, and then the war stopped, and so on and so forth. And they expanded further and started initiating another war.
TML: So it was like a vicious circle…
Minister al-Eryani: Exactly. Stop and then expand. Stop and expand. In fact, when they respond to a truce or cease-fire, it’s just to reorganize themselves and identify their weak points so when they come back, they can expand more. Ultimately, they controlled the whole Sana’a governate. Now the question here arises: How can such a minority group with such supposedly limited resources manage to expand and control a whole governate? The international community recognizes that Iran is interfering in Yemen and is using their proxy agent.
TML: What followed?
Minister al-Eryani: In 2015, the new government’s intention [the government headed by President Hadi – ed.] was to stop the war and resolve all problems. All problems were addressed, including the Houthis. The Houthis, by the way, asked the government to apologize for the previous wars as a precondition to join the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), and the government accepted in order to attract them to the conference. This national conference was a tremendous success. It provided women with 30 percent of all posts in the entire government, 20% for the youth, and it represented a new social contract between the government and the many people. During this NDC time, Iran supplied the Houthis with arms, as we see with the two arms ships, Jihan 1 and Jihan 2, ships… loaded with guns and missiles. It was with the help of the U.S. Navy that we captured the two ships… and handed them over to the Yemeni Coast Guard. The crews… confessed that the arms were supplied by Iran. President Hadi warned the international community that Iran was tampering with the region and tampering with the whole world. Unfortunately, the Houthis managed to enter Sanaa and, in fact, took advantage of the new government, which was trying to attract people, the Houthis in particular, to the peace process and this dialogue, and the government was not intending to fight back.
TML: Tell us what happened when the Houthis reached Sana’a?
Minister al-Eryani: All of a sudden, I saw from the window armed Houthi men surrounding my house. I was surprised to read the news that all the government and president were under house arrest. I was really surprised at the time because they became part of us, the government. How come and why was that? They turned against us. We were under daily threat, under house arrest. Two months after the Houthi invasion into Sana’a, President Hadi managed to flee to Aden. Again, from Aden, he called the Houthis to [make] peace and avert more Yemeni bloodshed. Unfortunately, they responded with more atrocities, where they attacked by air the president’s palace in Aden and bombed the palace and the surrounding area, and continued their invasion into other governates all the way down to Aden.
TML: What is the size of the Houthi force?
Minister al-Eryani: At that time, they were only about 50,000. But they allied with [forces loyal to] the former president [Ali Abdullah Saleh] and there was a kind of revenge between the old president and the new government that was a result of the Arab Spring. I am from the same party as… Saleh.
TML: So what’s most misunderstood by the United States in regard to Yemen?
Minister al-Eryani: It’s because of this misunderstanding that we are facing the current political situation – and also as a result of political misunderstandings or mistakes by the United States government. At one time, the U.S. supported Iran, believing that eliminating al-Qaida and ISIS [would require] the support of Iran. So it did support Iran’s presence in Iraq and was about to support Iran’s presence in Yemen as well, believing that such support would undermine al-Qa’ida and ISIS. The Americans forgot at that time that Osama bin Laden’s family and some al-Qaida leaders resided in Iran.
TML: How do you feel about proposed American legislation that limits or ends support for the anti-Houthi coalition?
Minister al-Eryani: This will simply help Iran advance, and the Houthis will control the whole country and the expansion of chaos. And of course, it goes without question: Such an environment will be conducive for another terrorist organization to thrive, like al-Qaida, and ultimately Yemen will turn into Somalia. We’ll have a very long civil war and will have different emirates or small states inside the country. And of course, Yemen is not going to pay the price alone. The whole world is going to suffer. To prove that, the Houthis are now recruiting more than 50,000 children, training them ideologically, militarily.
TML: Was it a surprise to you that President Trump’s government would come up with legislation to try to stop support for the coalition?
Minister al-Eryani: We do not want the American government to turn a blind eye to the Iranian scheme in the region, which is to expand the regime and export the Iranian revolution to the region. We do not want to pay the price of the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans in the United States.
TML: But it’s confusing even for Americans that somebody like Senator [Lindsay] Graham, who we would think would be supporting the efforts to help the Saudi coalition defeat the Houthis, came out against it and was a stalwart of the effort to legislate against support for the Saudis against the Houthis. It’s very confusing. What are they missing?
Minister al-Eryani: They need to understand that such legislation will have very negative consequences on the Yemeni people. The Houthis will feel like they defeated the coalition. They won the war and they don’t believe in the peace process. Their creed is based on fighting and they just want to serve their chant: “Death to America, Death to Israel, cursing Jews and victory to Islam.” They have been recruiting such children at very young ages.
TML: To recruit children to fight is a war crime.
Minister al-Eryani: They are very, very young. Very small kids. Just like seven years old – just imagine that, used to guard a checkpoint! Even schoolgirls have been trained to use arms, RPGs! And they are used to form a human shield around leaders such as Mohammed Ali al-Houthi when he moves about.TML: Things turned in America after the Khashoggi business. The president started losing some of his longtime backers who supported him on all of these foreign policy issues, on all of the Middle East issues, but left the president on Yemen after the Khashoggi business. Are you, Yemen, being punished for Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi?
Minister al-Eryani: I believe that Yemen did pay some of this price, or in fact, [suffer] some of this punishment because of Khashoggi’s case. But my own belief is that those who [carried out the] orders committed the Khashoggi crime, [and] they have been penalized for that by the Saudis. It’s not in the interest of the Saudi government to kill Khashoggi. If the Saudis were that interested on eliminating Khashoggi, they could have had any assassin or any crime group kill him without being linked to the Saudi government. Many cases have been closed because they didn’t know the perpetrator. This is the responsibility of those who committed such crimes, and not the responsibility of the Saudi government.