Saudis must accept Ansarullah: ex-Iranian ambassador

June 11, 2015 - 0:0

A coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia launched on March 26 a military campaign in Yemen against Ansarullah revolutionaries, otherwise referred to as Houthis. The Saudi’s goal was to restore to power former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who had resigned on Jan. 22, just days after he and the Houthi had reached a power-sharing deal. Hadi is currently in exile in Saudi Arabia.

In a phone interview with the Al-Monitor, Seyed Ali Asghar Ghoreishi, former Iranian ambassador to Yemen, said that contrary to Saudis’ claims, Iran’s support of the Houthis has not been military. He believes that accepting the reality of Ansarullah’s emergence and acknowledging the “suppressed demands of the Zaydis” is crucial to any hope of resolving the Yemeni crisis. A UN-sponsored meeting is scheduled for June 14 to discuss an end to the fighting, which has led to a humanitarian crisis.

Ghoreishi, who headed Iran’s mission in Yemen from 1999 to 2003 and later became the director of documents and archives of the Foreign Ministry before retiring, emphasized not referring to Ansarullah as the Houthis, stating, “Houthi is a city between Saada and Sanaa, and the family of Sheikh Badreddin al-Houthi, father of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, are located there. Houthi is just the family name of Badreddin, so we shouldn’t attribute this current to just one person.”

---------- Iran’s policy to help the oppressed -----

Ghoreishi also said supporting poor, oppressed and deprived people has always been the policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its constitution.

“This policy doesn’t differentiate between Sunnis or Shias. Helping oppressed Palestinians plus backing uprisings in Arab countries against their dictator regimes during the Arab Spring is proof of it. Ansarullah, and the Yemeni people in general, have been under the oppression of dictator regimes and corrupt military commanders, and the Saudi government has supported these regimes. During wars from 2004 until 2009, which the former regime of Yemen imposed on the oppressed people of Saada and the Zaydis, Saudi Arabia supported the regime and provoked the religious differences against the Zaydis with the support of the Salafists, takfiris and people such as Sheikh Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi’I,” Ghoreishi reminded.

“When I was in Yemen, I witnessed massive propaganda against Shias triggered by Saudi Arabia aiding Salafi and takfiri currents. It’s been a few decades that Saudi Arabia has been heavily invested in interfering in the internal affairs of Yemen. They are also provoking the Yemeni people to turn against each other by inciting religious differences.

Nonetheless, the courageous and informed people of Yemen have not been much influenced by these acts. Under these circumstances, it is natural for Ansarullah and the Zaydis to expect Iran’s support and help,” he added.

He also said that Iran is supporting the Ansarullah revolutionaries “politically and spiritually”.

In response to a question on whether or not Iran’s aid ship docking in Djibouti was a step taken to facilitate peace talks, the former ambassador said, “Iran has cooperated with the UN and intends to facilitate the talks and has been moving in this direction ever since. In my view, our aid ship docked in Djibouti with the aim of assisting the peace talks and easing tensions. It is noteworthy that Iran gave a yes to the procedures determined by the UN, not Saudi Arabia.”

“Saudi Arabia started the war with the excuse of it being at Mansour Hadi’s request and has kept bombing the oppressed but resistant Yemenis nonstop. The people of Yemen should make decisions about their destiny themselves. Nonetheless, Iran proposed a four-article plan to solve the crisis there: cease-fire, humanitarian assistance, inter-Yemeni talks and formation of an inclusive government. The Yemeni crisis has far-reaching dimensions, and the UN and the envoy of [Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon are also making attempts to find a solution to the crisis. As mediations are underway, it is necessary for all the sides to accept the realities. The emergence of Ansarullah and the suppressed demands of the Zaydis are among these realities. The solutions currently presented ignore these realities and consequently won’t lead to any final solution,” he asserted.

-------- Iran has no interests in Yemen

When asked about Iran’s interest in Yemen, Ghoreishi underscored that, “Iran has no interest in Yemen except for backing the oppressed side and providing humanitarian aid.”

“We have no economic interest in Yemen. In fact, they have nothing Iran wants. We have always been there [Bab el-Mandeb Strait]; our presence dates back to 1,000 years ago. We did not do anything in the Strait of Hormuz to worry some people, much less in Bab el-Mandeb.”

On the history of ties between Iran and Yemen, he said, “Iran and Yemen’s relationship has old roots stemming from the history of the two countries. The ties didn’t just take shape after the Islamic Revolution. Our relations with the Zaydis dates back to the third century. At the time, we had a Zaydi dynasty established in Iran, when the founder of the Zaydi government in Yemen traveled to Iran, Medina and then got invited to Saada to form a government there.”

-------------- Tehran-Riyadh relations

On Iran-Saudi Arabia ties and the two countries’ main issues of tension, Ghoreishi said, “Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia came into being in the first days of [the 1979] Islamic Revolution. The Saudis supported [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein and his imposed war against Iran, although the relations have had their ups and downs. Disagreements were reduced to a minimum by former President Mohammad Khatami, even a security treaty was signed between the two countries. But the main reason behind the heightening of disputes may be due to Saudi Arabia’s waging a war against Yemen directly.”

On Saudis’ position regarding Iran nuclear talks, the former abassedor elaborated that, “Saudi Arabia is completely against Iran’s nuclear talks and doesn’t want Iran to reach a final agreement. It pushes for the sanctions against Iran to go on so that the pressures on Tehran would be kept alive. They have been interfering in nuclear talks and have sown their seed of discontent in the U.S. They simply do not want this deal to go through.”

----------- No military option for Yemen crisis

He also emphasized that Iran has neither the need nor the wish to send military forces to Yemen, as “the people of Yemen also don’t need any military advisers.”

“The problem is that Saudi Arabia and Mansour Hadi aren’t willing to accept Ansarullah as a reality. Ansarullah demands to be part of the power [structure]. The Zaydis have been under pressure during the past 50 years, and Ali Abdullah Saleh imposed six wars on them that led to the martyrdom of approximately 18,000 in Saada. Therefore, they had to come out and take power in Sanaa to get rid of the oppressors. That way, no one could hurt them anymore.”

Yemen would be a swamp for every country that sends ground forces there. In the first days of the Yemeni war, Saudi Arabia asked Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt to take part in a ground attack, but none of them accepted. They knew what the result of such an action would be, especially Egypt, which had military involvement in the Yemeni civil wars from 1962 to 1970. At the time, [President] Gamal Abdel Nasser dispatched 70,000 forces to Yemen, but failed to determine the destiny of the civil war with these ground troops. In Yemen, all of the people and tribes are armed, and war in this country, especially the mountainous area of the north, would cause them high death tolls.

Currently, Saudi Arabia is facing a serious problem with armed Yemeni tribesmen along with its borders, but for now has tried to retaliate by airstrikes and destruction of Yemeni infrastructure. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia has not had a political accomplishment, even with the help of its airstrikes, and won’t be able to bring its preferred person to Sanaa or Aden and make him the ruler.

On the prospects of a sustainable cease-fire and formation of an inclusive government in Yemen, Ghoreishi noted that, “Wars definitely don’t last forever. Ansarullah, as they themselves have announced, is ready to start a dialogue and inter-Yemeni talks under the supervision of the UN. Negotiations could begin in Geneva or Sanaa and might lay the foundation for the establishment of an inclusive government, providing that the other side shows a readiness for talks. Iran has also presented its proposals and repeatedly supported inter-Yemeni talks.”