In its first weeks in office the Biden Administration has rebuked Saudi Arabia and made concessions to Iran. How are things going so far?
On Monday Israel accused Iran of responsibility for an explosion on an Israeli commercial ship. Over the weekend Tehran turned down U.S. and European entreaties to renegotiate the nuclear deal, while the Iran-backed Houthi militia escalated its attacks on Saudi Arabia from Yemen with a missile launch and drones.
The Biden team seems to have hoped that “recalibrating” the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has fought the 2015 Houthi takeover in neighboring Yemen, would draw down the war there. The Houthis have other ideas. In early February the State Department said it would reverse the group’s designation as a terrorist organization, but days later it had to release a statement that it was “deeply troubled by continued Houthi attacks.”
The attacks have persisted and now Foggy Bottom’s language is more direct: “The United States strongly condemns the Houthis’ attacks on population centers in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, February 27,” State said on Sunday. “We call on the Houthis to end these egregious attacks.”
But why would the Houthis listen, when the U.S. has legitimized them with a sanctions reprieve in return for nothing, and when it broadcasts a strategy of accommodating their patrons in Tehran? Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is on the defensive as Washington downgrades the alliance and restricts arms sales.