March 26 this year marks the fourth anniversary of the Saudi war on the nation of Yemen. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also a major participant in this assault, committing thousands of ground troops. This Saudi-Emirati campaign would not be possible without the unending supply of armaments, logistical and tactical support from Britain and the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that this war has inflicted untold misery and suffering upon the people of Yemen.
The United Nations has stated that this war has produced the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe with 80 percent of the Yemeni population requiring humanitarian assistance. Among that number are 11 million children – and the spectre of famine looms over the Yemenis. The UN estimates that 1.3 million children have suffered acute malnutrition over the last four years. Millions of Yemenis have been pushed to the brink of starvation.
The Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen has imposed a severe economic and trade blockade, resulting in the deterioration of the Yemeni economy. These punitive measures, which restrict imports, have hit the civilian population and driven people into economic misery. While the constant Saudi air strikes on the country have received strong criticism, the sea blockade of Yemen by the Saudis which is taking a toll on the fishing industry and on all those whose livelihoods depend on it.
In October last year, Saudi operatives in the Istanbul embassy murdered the Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. His gruesome killing was the subject of justifiable outrage, and prompted renewed examination of the Saudi war on Yemen. However, no less murderous are the numerous air strikes by Saudi forces on the people of Yemen, but these attract less outrage and media attention.
During the last week of March 2019, the Saudi forces carried out an air strike on a rural hospital in Kitaf, northern Yemen. The casualties included five children. The air strike, conducted by Saudi personnel flying American and British supplied fighter jets, disrupted the operation of the hospital and medical workers in providing health care for the sick and wounded. The Save the Children charity, which supported the hospital, condemned the attack as a violation of international law.
The Saudi-Emirati offensive against Yemen was launched to prop up the government of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The latter was installed by Riyadh in 2012 as part of a political settlement ensuring overall Saudi dominance in the internal affairs of Yemen. The nationalist Zaidi Shia Ansar Allah movement – the Houthis in common parlance – rose up in rebellion against this arrangement. Since the Saudi offensive, Hadi’s government has been in exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Emiratis, while being active participants in this war to crush the Ansar Allah movement and restore President Hadi, have been pursuing their own agenda in Yemen. The UAE has been striking out on its own, investing its considerable finances throughout the Middle East and also in Africa. The Emiratis increasing economic and military clout sometimes puts it at odds with their Saudi partners in Yemen.
The Emiratis have been quietly and busily constructing their own Yemeni proxies and burgeoning state in southern Yemen. Prior to unification in 1990, Yemen had been divided between the conservative northern Yemen Arab Republic, and the socialist-Communist state of the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. While the southern secessionist movement remained quiescent, it noted its chance to revive southern nationalism out of the chaos engendered by the latest Saudi war.
The Emiratis have sponsored, with armaments and money, the establishment of a Southern Transitional Council (STC) as a rival authority to the Saudi-supported government of Hadi. The STC provides security and stability for southern Yemen, and intends to reestablish a Communist-style system in the country. The Emiratis are strongly opposed to any such measures by the STC, and intend to acquire south Yemen as an economic colony of their own.
The patronage of the southern movement by the Emiratis is backfiring. Apart from their shared hostility to the Houthi movement, there is not much else that unites them politically. The Emiratis, for their part, have been building their own Yemeni militia groups, paid for and armed by them, with unquestioned loyalty to the UAE. Writing in The Guardian, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad elaborates the Emiratis measures to build their own networks, extending their power beyond their own borders.
The Security Belt is the name of the Emirati-supported militia that is resorting to brutal suppression of its opponents in the south of Yemen. This group has been accused by human rights organisations of torturing and brutalising their political opposition – which includes not only Ansar Allah members, but anyone opposed to the Emirati project in south Yemen.
The Houthis have managed to establish themselves as a governing authority in the north of the country despite the Saudi-Emirati offensive. The southern movement is now demanding that its push for a revival of the separate south Yemeni state be given its due consideration. If anything, the Saudi attack on Yemen has been a failure, because the political opponents of the Saudis are the only forces capable of exerting authority in their respective regions of the country.
As this war enters its fifth year, we cannot continue to pretend that we in the West are innocent bystanders. The Saudi assault on Yemen would not be able to continue were it not for the constant pipeline of armaments from the United States and Britain. Five British elite special forces commandos were injured in a gun battle in Yemen at the end of March. Questions are being asked in London as to why British troops are deployed in Yemen.
British and American forces are deeply involved in the Saudi campaign against Yemen; British commandos on the ground in Yemen provide intelligence and direction for Saudi air strikes. British military cooperation with Riyadh continues unabated. Let us stop pretending that this war is occurring in some far-away country about which we know nothing.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury and current chairperson of Christian Aid Rowan Williams stated it plainly when he wrote that the UK’s complicity in this Saudi war on Yemen must end. The catastrophe in Yemen, while directly caused by the Saudi-Emirati war, is enabled by Britain and the US acting as willing accomplices. We must step up our efforts to expose the criminality of this predatory war.