Despite Saudi Arabia’s claim to have recently ended its month-long bombardment of Yemen, an all-out assault the Saudi nation dubbed “Operation Decisive Storm”, the second phase called Operation “Restoring Hope” is every bit as cruel and destructive as the first. After suffering more than a century of British colonialism, being subjected to numerous wars, widespread famines, drone attacks, and being at the constant mercy of various neoliberal puppeteers, Yemen currently holds the distinction of being the poorest country in all the Arab and Muslim world. More than half of the people the UN cites as being in dire need of humanitarian aid in the “Middle East” region – 14.7 million out of 28.8 million – are in Yemen. And those are 2014 numbers, before the latest Saudi onslaught ever began. So why is America’s closest regional ally, save Israel, maiming young children and families with munitions provided by none other than the United States? And is this murderous operation being carried out with the tacit approval of the Obama administration? The fact that the Navy aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt was recently deployed off the coast of Yemen seems to answer in the affirmative.
[WARNING: Ahead are some graphic images that many will find disturbing, but viewing is often necessary to understanding the full atrocity of the wars we so often take part in without even taking the time to reflect on them.]
This latest crisis is rooted in widespread discontent with the extremely corrupt government of recently-deposed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. That Hadi is no friend to Yemenis is evident in his willingness to allow the United States to conduct drone warfare on his people without raising even as much a word of disapproval over the amount of civilians killed in such strikes, which allegedly are meant to eliminate “terrorists” – like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Their effectiveness is, however, doubtful given that many see drones as the most effective recruiting tool for AQAP. After all, studies have repeatedly shown that for every successfully-targeted “terrorist” killed in a drone strike, there are at least 28 civilians killed. The corruption and callousness by which Hadi, who came to the presidency only after the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, governed caused his government to be viewed by many as illegitimate. This illegitimacy proved to be a great boost for the Houthi rebel fighters, who hail from Yemen’s northern highlands and have long been at odds with the central government.
The Houthis, who call their movement Ansar Allah (Party of God), are of the Shi’ite sect of Islam as opposed to the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis. Unlike the majority of Shi’a, however, the Houthis are followers of Zaydi Islamism. This fact has been often underplayed by their opponents who wish to paint them as being proxies of majority-Shi’ite Iran. Saudi Arabia as well as the Yemeni government have spent years trying to tie the Houthis to Iran. As reported in The Intercept, “For years, the Yemeni government attempted to inflate Iran’s influence over the Houthis in the hopes of winning U.S. permission to use counterterrorism funds and assistance to fight the Houthis.” This was the case whether Yemen’s President was Saleh or Hadi, yet interestingly the Houthis are now being backed by former President Saleh, who still enjoys majority support from members of Yemen’s military. Saleh previously conducted six different wars against the Houthis from 2003 on. Troubling and contradictory though the Houthi-Saleh alliance may be, there is no question that the Houthis have proven themselves to be by far the most effective battling force against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which ostensibly the U.S. and Saudi Arabia oppose as well.
In September, 2014 the world was stunned when the Houthis took over the capital city of Sanaa. The U.S. military establishment was apparently so alarmed by this that they completely tuned out the Houthi leader’s insistence that it was not power the Houthis wanted, but a smooth transition to a new government that is more representative of their interests. Events took an even more unpredictable turn on January 22 when the Houthis placed President Hadi under house arrest and pressured him to resign from the presidency, which he did. He subsequently left for Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where he treacherously called for a regional coalition to launch an all-out war on his own country.
Beginning March 25th, Saudi Arabia headed a coalition of corrupt Arab Gulf monarchies including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait – in addition to Jordan, Sudan, Egypt and Morocco – in a murderous assault on Sanaa which led to the deaths of hundreds of people in the first six days alone. (*) Residential houses were completely flattened while children were inside of them, a refugee camp was attacked, and even a medic trying to rescue people from the bombs was blown to pieces. One survivor of the attack on Sanaa demanded to know of his attackers, “We tell Saudi Arabia, don’t you have enough with what’s happening in Syria and Iraq? You want to do the same in Yemen? Why are you hitting Yemeni civilians, women and children?”
These airstrikes spread to include 9 of Yemen’s 21 provinces, and in the southern port city of Aden at least 140 people were killed by airstrikes in a single day. Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir described the intended goals of the operation as preventing “the legitimate government of Yemen from falling.” This from a man who represents what is unquestionably one of the most despotic and undemocratic regimes in the world! What, pray tell, gives Saudi Arabia the right to tell Yemen what constitutes a “legitimate” government? While the Houthis are far from being universally popular in Yemen (Yemen’s south has long sought to reestablish its independence and would hardly be welcoming to Houthi rule), theirs is an indigenous movement born of local concerns which is a far cry from what the monarchy of Saudi Arabia supports. It’s also a far cry from what the United States wants. Lest you were under the impression that Saudi Arabia conducts wars on its neighbors without at least the tacit approval of its prime sponsor, the White House has announced that the U.S. military is providing “logistical and intelligence support” to the Saudi-led coalition, including information on targets as well as “daily air-to-air refueling of flights of fighter jets from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
It’s difficult to see what possibly could have caused such alarm and panic among the Gulf Sunni Arab governments that they would jointly decide to launch such a murderous assault upon their neighbor. That is, until one takes into consideration the rise of what some observers say is an increasing Iranophobia. At a conference held in Cairo on March 28, the Arab League convened to discuss the possibility of deploying some 150,000 coalition ground forces (made up of mainly Saudi and Egyptian troops) to invade Yemen. The overall tone of this conference and the extremity of the measures proposed by its participants demonstrates how the Sunni Arab powers are essentially losing their minds when it comes to the perceived Iranian threat they see lurking around every corner. There is a method to the genuine madness however. By painting all Shia-led opposition to Sunni-led governments across the Arab world, be they in Bahrain or Yemen, as being instigated by Iran, these corrupt regimes are conveniently allowed to sidestep the very real grievances of their own internally repressed Shi’ite populations.
The threat of a so-called “Shia crescent” has been used by proponents of anti-Iran warfare for at least the past fifteen years or so, and it has been propagated by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel among others. The “Houthis-as-Iranian-proxy” theory has very little basis in reality, however. Evidence suggesting that the Houthis have been receiving arms or even training from Tehran is virtually nonexistent, though one would never know this listening to the U.S. mainstream media which usually just repeats assessments made by U.S. “intelligence” agencies verbatim. The only aid Iran has sent to Yemen has been in the form of “food, medicines and medical equipment provided by the Iranian Red Crescent.” (Due to the blockading of all of Yemen’s ports by U.S., Saudi and Egyptian vessels even this is now being blocked from arrival.) To get to the source of the Houthis’ vast supply of weaponry, one need not look to Tehran but to the backing they’ve received from former enemy-turned-ally Ali Abdullah Saleh. The fact that Saleh still has the backing of a huge portion of the Yemeni military probably explains why so much of the military’s more advanced weaponry has made its way into the hands of Houthi rebels. One interesting detail in all of this that is overlooked is that much of this military equipment has been paid for by U.S. taxpayers themselves. Going back to 2006, over $500 million in military hardware was provided to the Yemeni military under Saleh’s government as a means of ensuring his complacency in the so-called “war on terror”.
Whether this latest assault was instigated on the advice of the U.S. or not, the U.S. of A. has made it abundantly clear that there’s one side in the battle it wholeheartedly supports. Both the White House and Congress have voiced bipartisan support for Saudi Arabia’s actions, with Republican House Speaker John Boehner declaring, “I applaud the Saudis for taking this action to protect their homeland”, and California representative Darrell Issa (R), who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stating that the U.S. “will support our allies and punish our enemies through steadfast resolve and decisive action.” This support is by no means limited to vocal solidarity either. The murderous coalition has military support from the U.S. in the form of the Navy aircraft carrier known as the USS Theodore Roosevelt as well as the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy patrolling the coasts of Yemen. When this information became available on April 20, the White House insisted that the Roosevelt’s purpose was to “intercept potential shipments of Iranian weapons” to Houthi fighters. Yet there has never been any credible evidence of such weapons shipments ever making their way from Iran in the first place. U.S. Army Colonel Steven Warren of the Pentagon essentially admitted the cruisers were not deployed for the purpose of potentially intercepting supposed Iranian “weapons” shipments. As is usually the case however, the United Nations has swallowed the official line of the U.S. and Saudi governments without question, with the U.N. Security Council passing a ridiculously one-sided “humanitarian” resolution imposing an arms embargo against only one side in the Yemeni conflict – the Ansar Allah Movement of the Houthis – by a vote of 14 to 0, with only Russia abstaining on the basis that the resolution’s weapons embargo should be applied equally to both sides. Otherwise there’s no real incentive for both parties to the conflict to come to the negotiating table.
The results of the international community’s failure to hold Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies accountable for their crimes against humanity have been predictably devastating for Yemen. The nation has been on the verge of humanitarian crisis for years now, and to have a regional coalition of more powerful neighbors bombarding it could not have come at much worse a time. Before the Saudi-led act of aggression on its neighbor began in March, it had been determined that
“More than half of Yemen’s children suffer from malnourishment, and, according to the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, 61% of Yemen’s population of 24 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.”
The months-long assault on a people who were already in dire need of food and medicine is continuing to take a terrible toll, as was undoubtedly intended by those who launched the attacks. Since late March close to 2,000 people, hundreds of them children, have been killed while another 7,394 have been injured and well over 300,000 have been displaced from their homes. Meanwhile,
“Prices of essential medicines have increased by more than 300 percent, and the shortage of water has increased the risk of diarrhea and other diseases and is affecting basic hygiene in hospitals and clinics.”
Pumps which supply running water have become dysfunctional in many places. And 47,000 tons of wheat is being blocked from entering the country’s ports by Saudi vessels, even though 91% of Yemen’s food supply comes from imports.
That such a huge amount of suffering was always a primary goal of the bombing campaign is exposed laid bare by the fact that there were, among the Saudi-led coalition’s main targets, the country’s largest food storage facilities in addition to its second largest dairy plant. In Saada, an airstrike directly targeted and hit the international aid agency Oxfam’s humanitarian supply warehouse. This in spite of the fact that, according to agency’s regional director Grace Ommer, “We have shared detailed information with the coalition on the locations of our offices and storage facilities”.
The question has to be asked, who is reaping the benefits from this barbaric assault on an already deprived population? Seemingly the group which stands to gain the most is in fact the one that the United States claims to oppose the most, that of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As reported by the Huffington Post on the 16th of April, the AQAP group “consolidated control over much of the country’s largest province on Thursday, capturing a major airport, an oil terminal and the area’s main military base.” The same news article noted how “the strikes have not targeted areas with an al-Qaeda presence, including Hadramawt province, where al-Qaeda has long maintained a presence…” The al-Qaeda flag now flies over that province’s main port city of Mukalla with little alarm being raised on the part of Yemen’s attackers. Could it be that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and their allies actually prefer an al-Qaeda-dominated Yemen over a Houthi one? Or does the U.S. still actually believe that its homicidal strategy of raining down death from the skies in the form of drone attacks will somehow succeed in driving al-Qaeda from the face of the earth? Isn’t the definition of insanity continuing to do the same thing repeatedly over again while expecting a different result?
- *One Gulf Cooperation Council nation which declined to join in the assault on Yemen was the kingdom of Oman. This is not a surprise to anyone who is aware of Oman’s history. When taking into consideration the surrounding Gulf monarchies, Oman’s human rights record looks stellar in comparison.
What I found most distressing about all this was the determination by the US and Saudi Arabia to cut off food and humanitarian aid to Yemeni civilians. This is a war crime.
Indeed, but somehow when the U.S. does it the international community is ineffective when it comes to accountability. The U.S. has WAAY too much influence in the United Nations. Many countries I believe are afraid to challenge it.