JERUSALEM, Israel — One of the strangest aspects of the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas is the involvement of the Houthi rebels of distant Yemen, a poor country where the majority of the population is addicted to drugs.
In the past several weeks, the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have launched missiles at Israel from nearly 2,000 miles away, and have begun seizing vaguely Israeli-connected shipping near the crucially important Red Sea strait of the Bab-el-Mandeb.
Notably, President Joe Biden de-listed the Houthis as a terror organization shortly after taking office, ostensibly to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen. Democrats also pushed for the U.S. to stop supporting Saudi Arabia’s role in the civil war in Yemen on the government side against the Iranian-backed rebels, despite the fact that the Houthis are a threat to a U.S. naval base across the strait in the African nation of Djibouti. The Houthis continued attacking Saudi Arabia after being de-listed.
There is no national interest in Yemen in attacking Israel. The country has problem of its own, including a widespread addiction to a drug known as qat or khat, which makes the country essentially unproductive. The New York Times noted in 1999:
More than cigarettes, more than the illicit whisky found in many middle-class households, more than the mouthwatering kebabs and roasted Red Sea fish that are the favored fare in the bazaars, what holds this devout Muslim nation of 16 million people in thrall is the mildly narcotic effect that comes from chewing the tender green leaves known as khat (pronounced GAHT).
Surveys show that more Yemenis than ever — at least 80 percent of men, about 60 percent of women and increasing numbers of children under 10 — settle down on most afternoons to a habit that ancient scripts recorded among merchants and religious mystics as early as the 10th century A.D. Plucking the choicest leaves off a bundle of khat branches, aficionados chew relentlessly into the evening, until the keenest of them have tennis-ball-sized gobs of leaves in their cheeks, and the appearance of glassy-eyed Popeyes.
In a country where many people live off incomes of $100 a month or less, some of the poorest families cheerfully admit to spending 50 percent of their earnings on khat. The Government acknowledges that 40 percent of the country’s irrigated farming land is given over to growing khat shrubs and trees.
Israel has not yet responded directly to the Houthi missile attacks, which have been intercepted by Patriot and Arrow 3 batteries near the Red Sea port city of Eilat. However, the recent Houthi seizure of international shipping could soon provoke a reaction.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.