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Saudi Arabian Diplomat Defends Yemen Strikes as ‘War of Necessity'

Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2015.
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2015.

Saudi ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir calls the Saudi-led air campaign against Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen a “war of necessity,” not a proxy war against Iran. Jubeir said that despite an Arab League decision to form a joint Arab intervention force, there are no immediate plans to introduce ground forces in Yemen.

Ambassador Jubeir said an objective of the air campaign is to protect the Yemeni people and government against the Houthis, who he described as a radical organization with ties to Iran and Hezbollah. He also said the Saudi campaign was launched Thursday at the behest of the legitimate Yemeni government of Abd Rabbou Mansur Hadi and is aimed at returning peace and stability to Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor.

President Barack Obama, speaking Friday with Saudi King Salman, emphasized U.S. support for the action taken by Riyadh and its partners in Yemen, saying they both agreed the goal is Yemen’s lasting stability through a negotiated political solution.

The Saudi diplomat, appearing Sunday on the CBS program Face the Nation, said the air strikes, involving more than 10 nations, will continue until the objectives are met. He called it a war of necessity, not a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran.

"We had no choice. We tried every possible way to avoid it. The Yemenis tried every possible way to avoid it. Agreements were made, and every single agreement that was made with the Houthis, 67 of them to be precise, the Houthis reneged on. So, they continue to take over the country, and when they were virtually about to take over the city of Aden with its president, [Abd Rabbou Mansur Hadi], we had to step in in response to the legitimate government to do so," he said.

He added that there is no plan to introduce ground forces in Yemen, but a Saudi military official, Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, said some cross-border artillery strikes have been conducted against Houthi targets in northern Yemen.

Jubeir accused Iran of being heavily involved in supporting the Houthis.

"The Houthis are ideologically affiliated with Iran. The Iranians have provided them with weapons. The Iranians have provided them with advisers and the Iranians have provided them with money," said Jubeir.

Iran has denied arming the Houthis. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, told the same broadcast audience Iran is involved and the Saudi coalition cannot allow it to gain a foothold in Yemen.

"We call them Houthis, but this is Iran. They’ve financed them. They’ve consulted them. They’ve sent weapons, and the fact is that the Gulf States, this coalition, will not stand by and see that presence ceded there," said Burr.

Burr said that lacking a U.S. presence, terrorism has flourished in the Middle East and is spreading to North Africa and Central Asia.

Ending a two-day summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt Sunday, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby warned that Yemen is “on the brink of the abyss requiring effective Arab and international moves” to end what he called the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy. He said the League agreed, in principle, to create a joint Arab intervention force to face regional challenges and “maintain Arab national identity.”

Regional analyst Amin Saikal of the Australian National University believes it will take months for Arab League participants to form such a force.

“I think this is something President el-Sissi of Egypt has wanted, as a former military general and he’s now got the agreement of the Arab League, but, of course, it’s not absolutely clear that all the 22 Arab countries will participate in formation of this force,” said Saikal.

Saikal said a lack of unity among member states has frustrated past efforts at forming such a force, and that it is unclear who will finance, equip or provide the manpower for such a force.

In a separate appearance on the NBC program Meet the Press, Jubeir said that whether Saudi Arabia and Iran can co-exist peacefully depends on Tehran. He said his country has been the victim of repeated Iranian aggression and Saudi peace overtures have been rejected.

Jubeir said the Saudi kingdom supports an Iranian nuclear agreement, but it must be, he said, a solid deal that denies Iran the ability to acquire nuclear weapons and one that is verifiable.

As for his own country’s willingness to pursue such weapons if an agreement does not keep Iran from obtaining the bomb, Jubeir would only say every country has to look out for its own interests and protect its people. He says a threat assessment has to be made and a decision taken on how to deal with it.