The West enables catastrophe in Yemen

October 15, 2016
US-resourced Saudi war crime that killed 140 people. Sana’a, October 8.
US naval forces fired cruise missiles at targets in Yemen on October 12. This was the first direct Western involvement in the war in Yemen. However, Western powers — in particular the US and Britain — have been arming and bankrolling Saudi Arabia throughout the war. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia, along with its Gulf State allies, has pursued a relentless bombing campaign and siege of the nation of Yemen. It aims to influence its neighbour’s political order. The Saudi war has targeted hospitals, schools, the electricity grid and civilian infrastructure in Yemen. It is only possible due to the fulsome military and political support provided to Saudi Arabia by Britain and the US. This forgotten war has been largely eclipsed by media attention on Syria. US officials loudly and emphatically condemn the war crimes of Russian military forces in Aleppo, but have enabled their Saudi allies to commit atrocities on a national scale in Yemen with impunity. As Common Dreams reported on October 8, the Saudi-led air forces — whose warplanes are refuelled by the US — carried out an air strike on a funeral hall in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. At least 140 civilians were killed and 500 wounded. The Saudi aircraft struck that particular funeral hall because the attendees included high-level officials from the Houthi movement. In the Yemeni capital Sana’a, thousands took to the streets to protest this latest Saudi outrage. The leader of the rebel Houthi movement, Abdul-Malek Houthi, angrily denounced the attack. He said such airstrikes were being done with the weapons and permission of the US. Such an attack constitutes a war crime, and even the generally pro-US establishment Human Rights Watch raised questions about US culpability for this crime. The Saudi authorities announced that they would investigate this bombing, denying responsibility. However, it is clear that the funeral hall attack is only the latest in a long string of assaults on hospitals, markets and places where large groups of civilians congregate. Houthi movement On October 11, National Public Radio discussed how the US has become an indispensable partner for the Saudi government in its offensive against the Yemeni Houthi movement. The war was intended to be a quick and decisive victory over the rebel forces, with the Saudis reinstalling their Yemeni proxy, current President Abed Mansour Hadi, in power. However, the war has ground on for much longer than anticipated, and the Saudis — along with their US and British backers — find themselves stuck in a quagmire of their own making. Hadi was vice-president until installed as president in 2012 as part of a Saudi and US sponsored agreement. The move was designed to sideline a mass, democratic uprising against long-term Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, in September 2014, the Houthis, a movement based in the Zaydi communities in the north of the country, took over the capital and large portions of Yemen. The Houthis initially seemed focussed on winning autonomy for their community and tried influencing national politics from a distance. Taking control of broadcasting stations, military installations and other infrastructure, the Houthis tried to maintain the Hadi regime as its proxy. In January 2015, however, Hadi tried to set up a rival government in the former capital of South Yemen, Aden. The Houthis responded by allying with former President Saleh, effectively splitting the armed forces. They launched a military drive toward the south, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia, where he has remained ever since, despite occasional and temporary forays by Hadi into Aden. The US involvement in the specific funeral hall attack is criminal. But it is only one part of the wider role the US and Britain have played in enabling the Saudi regime to devastate Yemen. US President Barack Obama has the dubious distinction of being the president that has shipped more weapons and munitions to Saudi Arabia than any of his predecessors. Since 2009, Obama has provided US$115 billion worth of military equipment, training and supplies to the Saudi monarchy. Humanitarian catastrophe Saudi Arabia has also implemented a naval blockade of Yemen since last year. Saudi forces stop and search any maritime traffic heading towards the Yemeni ports, and turn back shipping. The blocking of sea ports has added to the misery of ordinary Yemenis, with millions facing the prospect of starvation. Food scarcity has hit the children of Yemen particularly hard. It is apparent that a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions is unfolding in the war-ravaged country. UNICEF has reported on the dire situation on the ground, saying that Yemeni children are paying the heaviest price. Diseases such as cholera have broken out. US naval forces take part in the naval blockade. The US has also imposed financial sanctions on Yemen to interrupt the flow of goods and services. Britain and US actively take part in intelligence gathering, provide targeting information and aerial refuelling for the Saudi forces. US and British officers cooperate with their Saudi counterparts to coordinate attacks. The US Navy attacked and destroyed radar sites in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen with cruise missiles on October 12. The attack came after one of its warships was fired upon by missiles the US claims originated from Houthi military forces. The Pentagon signalled that it could directly intervene in Yemen. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said that day: “Those who threaten our forces should know that US commanders retain the right to defend their ships, and we will respond to this threat at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.” This statement ignores the fact that the US has been heavily engaged in making the Saudi war on Yemen possible. Bogged down Despite all of these forces ranged against them, the Yemeni Houthis have proved resilient. The Hadi government, while officially recognised, has only a very thin base of domestic support. Saudi Arabia, and its imperialist enablers, are haemorrhaging money and credibility as they become ever more bogged down in the small Gulf nation of Yemen. Furthermore, Houthi forces have advanced into the Saudi provinces of Najran, Asir and Jizan. These provinces’ religiously heterogeneous population have been marginalised by the theocratic Saudi state. They share affinities with the northern Yemeni communities where the Houthis have their main social base — meaning Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen increasingly risks destabilising itself. [A longer version can be read at Rupen Savoulian’s blog Antipodean Atheist.]

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