Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war – a crisis that the West wants to ignore

The Washington Post published an article in November 2015 entitled ‘Yemen is turning into Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam’ by Hugh Naylor. The main thrust of the article is an examination of how Saudi Arabia, nearly nine months after it launched an invasion of its southern neighbour, is now bogged down in a prolonged, bitter and costly war that is straining its budget, stretching its military forces, exacerbating internal political divisions and worsening a declining economy. Saudi Arabia, the key US ally in the Gulf region, launched a full scale military offensive in March 2015 to dislodge the Shia Houthi rebel movement, and restore the government of Yemeni President Mansur Hadi. The Houthi militia, largely allied to Shia Iran, has been able to hang on to the capital Sana, and also retain control of vast swathes of Yemeni territory.

The conflict has dragged on not only because of the intransigent opposition and resilience of the Yemeni Houthi rebel group, but also largely because the Saudi Arabian military effort is fully supported by the United States and Britain. Indeed, it is fair to say that without the logistical, military and political support of the United States and Britain, the Saudi military machine would not have been able to mount such a prolonged and sustained military campaign. Britain has been, and continues to be, the silent partner of Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen. British-made jets, missiles and military equipment are regularly sold to the Saudi authorities, and these weapons enable the Saudi military to continue its war on the Yemeni population. The vast majority of Yemeni casualties in this conflict are civilians, and the Saudi authorities have boasted that during this offensive, they have been able to drop 1000 bombs in 125 air strikes per day.

The infrastructure of the already-struggling nation of Yemen has been devastated, and the population now faces the prospect of mass famine. The Saudi-led naval blockade of the country has interfered with the importation of food, and as of October 2015, half a million Yemeni children are vulnerable to malnutrition as a result. The humanitarian crisis, already serious in the early stages of the Saudi invasion, has worsened throughout 2015, with the BBC reporting that aid organisations are struggling to cope with the magnitude of the crisis. For instance, ordinary Yemenis are now compelled to rely on untreated water for drinking and washing, placing them at risk for water-borne communicable diseases. The Saudi blockade, having restricted the supply of fuel, means that the water and sewage systems – reliant as they are on functioning fuel pumps and working mechanical parts – has broken down. Children are bearing the brunt of these terrible privations.

Let us bear in mind that the Saudi Arabian military offensive is possible not only because of the unstinting support of the UK government, but also because of the full backing of the United States. Saudi Arabia, for decades a pillar of US foreign policy in the region, is able to count on the unwavering support of its American patrons. The United States provides intelligence and logistical support, sells military equipment, and provides mid-air refueling for Saudi jets in order to continue their military attacks. The Saudi air force, in October 2015, bombed the Medecines Sans Frontieres – Doctors Without Borders – MSF hospital in Yemen, even though the MSF had supplied the Saudi-led coalition with the GPS coordinates of their hospital. That attack only underlines the fact that the Saudi authorities, and their US-British backers, regard any infrastructure – roads, bridges, hospitals, electricity grids – as legitimate targets for destruction, thus destroying the ability of the society to sustain itself.

Iona Craig, writing in The Independent newspaper, states that:

More than 2.3 million Yemenis have been internally displaced by the war, many forcibly by the bombings, while more than 160,000 people have arrived in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Sudan to escape the conflict. The majority took the treacherous journey by boat across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait that separates Yemen from the Horn of Africa.

The Saudi war on Yemen has destroyed the community on the ground, with indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the ruination of civilian infrastructure. This carnage has been possible with the support of the United States military-political complex. The latter has directly assisted in the direction and targeting of Saudi air strikes in Yemen, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians. The bombs used by the Saudi air force are manufactured in the United States.

The details of this war, and the complicity of the United States and Britain, expose the enormous hypocrisies behind their recent declarations of support for the newly-formed Saudi Arabian-led Muslim anti-terror coalition. The latter, a grouping of 34 Muslim-majority nations, is intended to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and yet, for their proclamations against terrorism, Riyadh is employing terroristic tactics of its own in the war against the people of Yemen. Not surprisingly, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, declared his full support for this anti-terror coalition, all the while ignoring the culpability of Washington in Saudi Arabia’s criminal war against Yemen.

The toxic nature of the US-Saudi alliance, and Australia’s growing support for it, has to be questioned and re-evaluated. This strategic relationship, one that has been solidified over the years with increasing military and economic relations between the two states, is a toxic influence on the people of the Arab and Islamic countries. As Medea Benjamin wrote for an article in Common Dreams magazine:

The Yemen crisis should also serve as a prime moment for the U.S. to reconsider its alliance the Saudi regime, a regime that not only denies human rights to its own people but exports death and destruction abroad. An upcoming activist-based Saudi Summit, which will be held in Washington DC on March 5-6, is an effort to build a campaign to support challenge this toxic relationship.

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