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Cutting off support from the West is the only way to stop Yemen’s terrorists | View

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Cutting off support from the West is the only way to stop Yemen’s terrorists | View

Nathalie Goulet, French Senator
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By Nathalie Goulet

There have been so many conflicts in the Middle East in the last seven years that it has been difficult to know which threat was most deserving of our attention - and our responses.

The Houthi threat has not been given due attention in Western capitals. They are not proscribed as a terrorist group by the US State Department, NATO or the EU. This means it is perfectly legal to support or even fundraise for them.

Nathalie Goulet French Senator

We have spent recent years focused on ISIS, both in Iraq and Syria, and on their increasing portfolio of so-called “lone wolf" attackers in Europe.

Islamic State's media savviness meant they were difficult to ignore. But their core aim of erecting a Sunni Jihadist terrorist state structure was ultimately unsuccessful, with the group now essentially on the run.

But where the Sunni Jihadists failed, their Shi'ite Jihadist counterparts are succeeding. Hezbollah has de facto control of large swathes of Lebanon and Syria, and Iran-backed groups of their ilk have almost total control of the Arab areas of Iraq.

But the greatest threat is undoubtedly the Houthis, who some call the "Yemeni Hezbollah" after their meeting with Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah in August. The Houthi extremists have achieved domination and destabilisation of a country already devastated by poverty, tribal conflict and corruption.

As Chair of the parliamentary Friendship Group between France and Yemen, I felt hopeless as I observed the situation go from bad to worse, especially after the Arab Spring in 2011. Yemen and its people have been off the international community's radar too often.

From their base in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital, Houthi militias have become the architects of a terrorist state and they have used their control of Yemen to provoke not only the country's civilian population but Iran's arch-enemy Saudi Arabia, firing ballistic missiles at Riyadh airport and more recently Dubai.

Their Iranian patronage - far from being a secret - is a source of pride for the Houthis, who have even borrowed the Iranian revolutionary slogan: “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam".

And through all this, the Houthi threat has not been given due attention in Western capitals. They are not proscribed as a terrorist group by the US State Department, NATO or the EU. This means it is perfectly legal to support or even fundraise for them.

And not content with simply allowing their fundraising to continue, some of the media and political class have shifted to outright indulgence, or even advocacy, for the Houthis. Many mainstream and otherwise credible newspapers afford them column inches for what is essentially terrorist propaganda.

Unbelievably, several French National Assembly members recently expressed support for the Shi'ite Jihadists, despite their control of Hodeida which has caused famine on an epic scale.

It is understandable that anti-Saudi feeling is high at the moment, making a contrarian position more attractive to some. The Houthis seem to be cynically profiting from Saudi Arabia's image problem.

I witnessed the tragedy of the situation in May when I travelled to Yemen as part of an official delegation. I saw the Houthis’ shameless blockade of ports and roads, leading to one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our generation.

And I also visited the frontline of the humanitarian response, led by international NGOs as well as regional players like the Saudi KSRelief. It's the kind of trip that I would advise the Houthis' vocal supporters sat in the comfort of London or Brussels to go on.

It is easy to forget that the coalition is in Yemen fighting terrorism at the request of the Yemeni government and in the presence of the UN. But they are not only fighting terror; they are fighting child soldiers. NGOs from Amnesty International to the Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations have documented - including at the UN Human Rights Council - Houthi war crimes, including illegal executions, death under torture and child abuse.

Despite this, the leader of the Houthi organisation, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, was somehow allowed to author an opinion column in the Washington Post, in what is surely one of the most controversial editorial decisions in a generation.

These kind of editorial choices are particularly dangerous when discussing a country like Yemen that was never easy for outsiders to understand, with all its tribal politics and systemic corruption.

The entire region is going through a huge leap of reform and progress; from Israel's renewed ties with its Arab neighbours to the Saudi Crown Prince's Vision 2030. As the Middle East balances modernity and progress with tradition and conservatism, it is essential that Yemen is not left behind - which is exactly what the Houthis want.

The solution to Yemen's problems lies in diplomacy, not in indulging terrorist propaganda from the safety of Washington DC. The region is fortunate in having skilled state mediators such as Oman, who have the relationships to broker some kind of peace deal between the two sides.

The international community - after years of regarding Yemen as a "low priority" - has to take some responsibility for what happens next. And so does the Iranian regime, which is emboldened by its successes in Syria and seek to replicate it in Yemen. They are not afraid of sanctions, under which they have years of experience surviving and thriving.

But perhaps Tehran can be convinced to focus on its own population and their needs, rather than constantly projecting power and disruption across the region at the cost of neglecting domestic problems.

The money they have spent on foreign terrorist proxies - not only in the Middle East but around the world - is needed for schools, hospitals and infrastructure back home, a sentiment echoed by protestors across Iran in recent months.

One thing is certain; the status quo cannot continue. We need to get a fair and nuanced understanding of the reality on the ground and Houthi terror and war crimes must be stopped. That starts by shutting down their support networks - even if they are in the newsrooms of Washington and Europe.

Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of the French Republic, Vice-Chair of the parliamentary Friendship Group between France and Yemen and a member of the Finance Commission

Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the authors.