Dr. Salem Al Ketbi
Dr. Salem Al KetbiCourtesy

On the sidelines of the Yemeni Houthis militia’s criminal and sinful attack on civilian facilities in Abu Dhabi, some analysis has emerged in the media (some of which are direct warnings appearing in the media that support this terrorist militia) that the Houthis could attack Israel. The reasons and justifications put forward in this context are diverse.

However, they agree that this probability, although low, is still real. This worst-case scenario should be discussed, even if it is unlikely.

First, it should be emphasized that terrorist crimes are condemned and rejected and deserve a firm stance from the international community in all its spectrums, whether they are directed against Saudi Arabia or the UAE or whether Israel is presented as one of their potential targets. It is not a question of which parties are targeted.

It is about human values and principles that reject terrorist ideology, extremism, and attacks on civilians, regardless of their goals and justifications. There is no doubt that discussing the assumption that Israel is the target of the Al Houthi militia is not a matter of analytical imagination, if one engages in some reflection.

The first is the ideological alliance of the “axis of resistance,” which includes militias scattered across the Middle East. These include the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthi group Ansar Allah, which has already declared itself to be part of the “axis of resistance” to which Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese terrorist militias, referred in one of his speeches.

Now, it is possible that these militias support each other in some cases, and the assessment and decision about this depends on the ideas and decisions of the financier, who is himself the main sponsor of all these groups.

A clearer definition of the goals and timing of the processes implemented by these militias is linked to a commonly known agenda, and possible goals can be identified and expectations constructed. There is a possibility that Israel is actually being targeted.

A direct Iranian-Israeli military conflict would occur if Israel decided to address the nuclear threat itself (an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities), either in the event of a failure of nuclear negotiations or a limited agreement that Israel sees as not providing sufficient security protection against the Iranian nuclear threat. In which case, the agents would likely play a key role in relieving military pressure on Tehran, dispersing the efforts of the other side in the conflict and trying to coerce it to stop any military escalation.

The second consideration under which the assumption of an attack on Israel by the Houthi militia can be discussed is that the group will tend to expand the Yemeni conflict if it is confirmed that they are militarily defeated in the fighting inside. It could then resort to miscalculated options.

It could again play with reckless, attention-seeking attacks against Israel or the UAE to force international powers to intervene to end the war in Yemen, thinking that intervention could keep the Houthi militias with minimal strategic gains, while they sit at the negotiating table to share power, interests, and influence in Yemen.

But such a game could be the ultimate and destructive gamble for the Houthis.

The leaders and sponsors of these militias are aware that an attack on Israel, no matter how adventurous, will inevitably trump any other uncalculated endeavor, whether because of Israel’s operational capabilities to respond militarily in a direct manner or because of the possible international support for Israel that will not end on declarations, but will immediately translate into collective and deterrent destructive strikes that the majority of major Western powers can participate in, and that will torpedo any possibility of a future political role for the Houthis in Yemen.

The third consideration is that Iran’s position must be factored into the possibility of the Houthis targeting Israel. Iran could supposedly lose control over some of the Houthis’ decisions, as in the case of Abu Dhabi being targeted by a sinful terrorist crime.

The Houthis, supposedly, could make some unilateral decisions, regardless of Iran’s traditionally known dictates. But against Israel, there are specific accounts and an exceptional situation that the Houthis know.

The group’s ideological and intellectual connection to the Iranian regime prevents it from thinking about threatening that regime’s future, or becoming a tool of destruction rather than a strategic lever of support. Theoretically, the group can make decisions considered to be in Iran’s interest without having the green light from Iran.

But in no case would it drag Iran into the circle of retaliation through a rash decision against Israel. In particular, such a decision requires a very frank and direct agreement from the highest level of decision-making in Tehran. It cannot be a unilateral decision by Abdul Malik Al Houthi, even if his will coincides with that of other militia leaders like Nasrallah or others.

The reason is simple: they are all working within a regional project. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine that they have the will to deviate from the overall strategic policy of the planners and theorists of this project.

Beyond the possibility of a direct Israeli-Iranian conflict or the evolution of the Yemeni conflict in a way that would threaten to defeat this militia once and for all, the question arises as to under what other circumstances the Houthis might consider a military attack against Israel.

These militia arms may be used in other situations, such as the failure of nuclear deal negotiations and the emergence of a limited attritional conflict based on limited options such as cyberattacks, proxy wars, and intelligence attacks.

In this case, these weapons can play an important role in carrying out specific operational tasks with specific instructions and guidance to combat and pressure Israel. There are also other cases, such as the mandate given to the Houthis to attack Israeli ships and naval facilities in the Bab Al Mandab Strait and Red Sea waters through maritime piracy.

This scenario is relatively unlikely unless the Houthi militia receives operational support from another stronger party with the necessary military capabilities. In my opinion, the operational capabilities of the Houthis should not be undersold in light of the potential threat they pose to Israel.

The militia’s propaganda and psychological attacks remain, and its arsenal remains small compared to the missiles, combat experience, and direct technical support that Lebanon’s Hezbollah, for example, has accumulated over decades and years. But in any case, the comparison between two risks remains irrelevant.

Maintaining the security and stability of societies remains the top priority, even when the potential risks seem unlikely - in the Middle East, one can never be complacent.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate