BAM Strait: It’s time we got serious about Yemen

A show of strength, such as the recent Tomahawk strikes in Syria, can do wonders to ward off potential threats and bolster allies, without boots on the ground.

By
May 15, 2017 21:54
3 minute read.
PRO-GOVERNMENT FIGHTERS gather next to a tank they use in the fighting against Houthi fighters in th

PRO-GOVERNMENT FIGHTERS gather next to a tank they use in the fighting against Houthi fighters in the southwestern city of Taiz in Yemen.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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We are finally getting serious in Yemen, and it’s about time. With the advent of the Trump administration, a new day has dawned not only over America, but over the troubled Middle East. After eight long years of strategic drift, we are now returning to the sensible foreign policy of helping our friends and harming our enemies in the region. A perfect example of this strategy is Yemen.

Trump administration defense officials have approved a stepping-up of both diplomatic and military efforts to restore peace in a chronically troubled Yemen. This supports our allies in the region who want to do the same.

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Last year, I led a congressional fact-finding mission to some of our most important allies in the Middle East. Arab leaders in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain all expressed their serious concerns about the dangerous instability in Yemen, largely due to the malign influence of Iran. Although they were also concerned about Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, that threat paled in significance to them compared to Yemen.  They view Iranian backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen as an existential threat in their own backyard.

Iran’s destabilization of Yemen is not just an existential threat to our Arab allies, it exacerbates a threat we already face to our own homeland from al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). The instability only gives more operating room to AQAP. Plans have been plotted and advanced by AQAP from Yemen that, although foiled so far, would have resulted in the deaths of many Americans. Beating back AQAP is a vital interest of the US.

We not only better protect our homeland by engaging more in Yemen, but we also have a golden opportunity to demonstrate loyalty and support to our Gulf state allies. They were understandably alarmed by the Obama administration’s perceived tilt toward Iran. Former president Barack Obama’s ill-advised attempt to curry favor with the Iranian revolutionary regime was pushing our traditional Arab allies in the region away. It’s past time to renew our support for Gulf Arab allies by giving them intelligence, surveillance, and other materiel support.

Trump administration officials, starting with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, are already taking concrete steps to reassure Gulf state leaders in person. This is very welcome.

Also, by denying Iranian proxies a military foothold, we keep one of the world’s critical seafaring chokepoints open and free. The Bab-al-Mandeb (BAM) Strait is only 30 km. wide at the narrowest and it guards the approach to the Suez Canal. Like the Straits of Hormuz on the opposite side of the Arabian Peninsula, it is in the vital interests of the US and the West for the BAM to remain open.



Fortunately, help is on the way. President Donald Trump recognizes what many in Congress – including myself – have been saying for years. We must partner with our regional allies to counterbalance Iranian influence and protect ourselves from radical Islamic terrorists such as AQAP.

A show of strength, such as the recent Tomahawk strikes in Syria, can do wonders to ward off potential threats and bolster allies, without boots on the ground. Yes, diplomacy must come first, but military efforts by our allies and aided by our support must be part of the mix, especially if it succeeds in driving rebel leaders to the negotiating table.

I am confident that we now have the right leadership in the White House, the Pentagon and Congress to achieve this goal and secure the future peace and prosperity of our homeland, and the safety and security of our Middle East allies, for years to come.

The author is a US congressman.

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