The Israel-UAE normalization deal will drive the Houthis to intensify the permeation of their anti-Zionism ideologies in areas under their control, exploiting popular anger to attract more fighters to join the front lines in Yemen.
The recent US-brokered Israel-UAE normalization deal has been under the spotlight, particularly in the Arab world. The agreement has deepened an overt cooperation and friendship between the two states and sent a massive shock throughout the region. Some have welcomed the deal as a bold step that lays the foundation of peace in the Middle East, while others hailed it “treason” or “betrayal.”
A war of words has erupted on social media and traditional news platforms. Pro-UAE Arabs say the peace deal with Israel will suspend the annexation of the West Bank, which serves the Palestinian issue. On the other hand, anti-UAE people say the UAE has stabbed all Muslims in the back in favor of further rapprochement with Tel Aviv.
The deal will undoubtedly transform Arab-Israeli relations and set forth a new path of cooperation and understanding, at least in some Arab countries. So far, Arab governments have either officially displayed their approval, remained tight-lipped, or openly rejected the deal.
Yemen categorically voiced its rejection. The foreign ministry of the UN-recognized government said Yemen’s stance towards the Palestinian issue remains unchanged. The Houthi de facto authorities in the North also denounced the normalization with Israel.
Yemen’s Houthis will certainly make use of the deal in their media war. They will manipulate it as solid proof that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are not fighting in Yemen without the support of Israel. Previously, they had already accused Israel of engaging in Yemen’s war and this normalization of ties will make their statements more believable among their supporters than ever before.
Accordingly, this development will drive the Houthis to further propagate their anti-Zionism ideologies in areas under their control, and they will exploit the anger of people to attract more fighters to join the front lines in Yemen.
Mohammed Abdulsalam, the spokesperson of the Houthi group, said in a televised interview that the normalization pact is against Arabs and the entire Muslim Ummah. “This proves these countries such as the UAE, that wage aggression on Yemen and take part in several battles in the region, are serving Israel.”
The agreement, according to Abdulsalam, is also evidence of the Houthis’ “honorable stand” on Palestine. He said, “This proves the stance we are taking and the noble battle in which we are engaging. We express our stance against the occupying Zionist entity and sacrifice our souls as a price for the sake of God and this issue.”
The Houthis present themselves as defenders of Islam and staunch supporters of the Palestinian question. They claim that their fighting against their opponents in Yemen is part of their fight against America and Israel.
In fact, since its establishment in 1994, the Houthi movement has been exhibiting enmity towards America and Israel. The birth of the movement was characterized by its slogan, a chant declaring: “Death to America, death to Israel.” For six wars, they fought in Saada province against the regime of then president Ali Abdulla Saleh, and despite the Houthi’s far-reaching mission, their fighting at the time did not go beyond Saada.
In 2014, they took over the capital and expanded their military presence to several provinces. Since then, the ideology around their slogan prevailed in areas that fall under their control, becoming deeply imbedded into the daily life of Houthi fighters. Their belief in this mission will grow firmer as their enemies in the Gulf countries have openly drawn closer to Israel.
In military psychology, the commander needs to make sure that soldiers are incensed over a specific issue, so they act resolutely to win in battle. As stated by Sun Tzu in the “Art of War,” “In order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger.”
This applies to the Houthis in Yemen. The recent Israel-UAE deal has angered the group and galvanized their supporters. Indeed, this fury will not squarely hurt Israel or the UAE, but it can hurt Yemenis who have been the victims of a proxy war over the last five years.
The Houthis have been a proxy for Iran, and the anti-Houthi forces are allied with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Houthis view their Yemeni opponents as just Saudi puppets while the latter claim the Houthis are the destructive hand of Iran in Yemen.
With this new normalization treaty between the UAE and Israel, the Houthi leadership will take pride in their stance and project themselves to Yemenis, particularly in the North, as genuine patriots and visionary leaders.
In August 2019, there were reports that Israel was planning to hit Houthi targets in Yemen, specifically locations in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. As the war has prolonged, Israel has not taken Yemen lightly.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly stated in October 2019 that Iran seeks to launch precision-guided missiles at Israel from Yemen. “Iran hopes to use Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen as bases to attack Israel with statistical missiles and precision-guided missiles. That is a great, great danger,” Netanyahu said.
The Houthis have not avoided mentioning Israel and they openly threatened to hit targets in Tel Aviv on land and sea. Houthi Defense Minister Mohammed Al-Atifi said in December 2019 that they will not be reluctant to strike Israel when the group’s leadership grants the green light.
It is clear that with more evidence of potential Israeli engagement in Yemen’s war, the Houthi rationale will become stronger among the group’s supporters and fighters.
In Yemen, the peace deal between Israel and the UAE can add to the momentum of hate and mistrust between the Houthis and their local political opponents, who are allied with the Saudi-UAE-led Arab coalition that launched an aerial military campaign against the Houthis in March 2015.
Over the course of the last six years, the Houthi group has seized several areas under the pretext of combating Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants in Yemen. It has been a devastating war which seems to be far from over. Now they will exploit the anger of Yemenis over the Israel-UAE normalization deal, mobilize more loyalists, and persuade grassroots factions of their commitment to Palestine. This may beget an abundance of pro-Houthi fighters, which means further violence, bloodshed, and suffering for the Yemeni people.