Saudi Arabia's unilateral blockade of Yemen since late March 2015 has caused a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in the Arabian peninsula. It is extremely difficult for journalists, aid workers and diplomats to access the country, but from the little information that does leak out, it is clear the situation there is dire.
From a population of 25 million - about the same as Syria's pre-2011 - at least 16 million Yemenis are without clean water, there is a critical shortage of medicine, and 6.5 million civilians are at risk of starvation, including 1.7 million children presently at risk of malnutrition. Peter Maurer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said after visiting the country last August: "Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years."
Widespread aerial bombardment by air forces of the Saudi and Gulf states - with significant direct and indirect military assistance from the US and UK - has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. During a press briefing early this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that "the number of civilian casualties recorded between 26 March and 31 December, 2015 [is] 8,119 people, including 2,795 killed and 5,324 wounded." However, Dr. Judith Brown, who worked in Yemen for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, points out that the death toll resulting from this military intervention is probably much higher than reported.
But whose war is this anyway? In the Western media narrative, the House of Saud and Gulf monarchs are intervening to [hold your nose] 'uphold the legitimate and democratically-elected leader of Yemen' against an unconstitutional coup that was directed, or at least facilitated, by the Iranian regime. In this context, Saudi bombing of civilians targets are 'mistakes'. In reality, however, the picture is somewhat different.
Yemen in Geopolitical Context
Yemen is essentially a country that has never escaped the shackles of colonialism, first under British rule, and now under proxy rule by Riyadh (on behalf of Washington). With a population similar in size to Saudi Arabia, but also the poorest country in MENA (Middle East and North Africa), the government in 'independent' Yemen has always been heavily influenced by Saudi money and its right-wing Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
Saudi Arabia is feeling the hounds of hell on its trail as it watches Iran break free from Wall Street sanctions and re-enter the global energy trade. Iran has three times the population of Saudi Arabia, nearly as much oil and gas, and a budding security and trade alliance with Russia and China. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is as dependent on the US and UK as they are on it, so the only way 'forward' is by doing their bidding.
Where the interests of the House of Saud and the Houses of Wall Street, London and Paris merge is in the energy trade, and more specifically, the control of global shipping arteries. For all the hi-tech gadgetry used today, some very old technology still dominates our lives: ships and boats - 90% of all world trade is carried over water. And so, as the British (and other sea-faring Europeans before them discovered); whoever rules the waves, rules the world.
Clearly on a fast-track to modernizing its infrastructure, it's only a matter of time before Iran takes its rightful place as the dominant player in the Middle East. Iran is thus exerting its influence over the world's busiest oil shipping route, which passes through the major choke point of the Strait of Hormuz. Iran knows that American warships won't be patroling those waters forever, and that without American 'protection', the House of Saud and the Gulf states will have no choice but to embrace Iran's entry into the markets, and on its own terms.
Riyadh is determined to prevent a new, independent regime from forming in Yemen because this would mean losing influence over the region's other crucial shipping choke point: the Mandeb Strait between Yemen and Djibouti, where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. This why it sees Iran's hand behind the Houthi rebellion: the Saudis are projecting their own Machiavellian schemes onto the Iranians. If they were in Iran's place, they would whip up a rebellion of their co-religionists. Indeed, this is precisely the strategy Saudi Arabia has followed to extend its influence across the Muslim world over the last half century.
Although the Americans and the French have military bases across the Red Sea in Djibouti, the Chinese recently announced their intentions loud and clear by cementing a deal to build a military base of their own there. China has big plans to dot the entire length of the '21st Century Maritime Silk Road' with bases and trade hubs, stretching all the way from China to the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and up the Red Sea through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean.
Nations all along this route are expressing interest in partnership, and even Big Business in the West is excited by the potential bucks to be made. The problem is that the 'Masters of the Universe' in certain Western capitals would sooner set the world on fire than lose monopoly control of the seas (and thus world trade and banking). And thus, the utter chaos and anarchy we see spreading like cancer today, not least in both countries either side of the Gulf of Aden, Somalia and Yemen. These two countries ought to be thriving gatekeepers of the great Europe-China maritime route. Instead they're human wastelands, the by-product of Washington's insane quest for total world hegemony.
The 'coup-plotters' in Yemen are in fact Houthi tribesmen leading a popular revolution. Although predominantly Shia, and thus co-religionists with the majority Islamic sect in Iran, the Houthis have received ever-growing national, cross-community and inter-religious support since the movement's emergence in the 1990s. With an agenda that seeks democratic reform and social justice for all, the Houthis have been compared with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their connections with Tehran end there, however: there is zero evidence of Iranian military support for their cause. Iran's involvement is limited to moral support for the revolution and efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged country.
The House of Saud previously attacked the Houthis in 2009, at the behest of its long-time ally, Yemen's president Abdullah Saleh, who generally placated Riyadh since coming to power in 1994. Saleh and Saudi Arabia's joint attempt to suppress Yemenis' democratic demands by eradicating the Houthis was dubbed 'Operation Scorched Earth', a move that even US diplomats described at the time as "dangerous and delusional."
Never shy of behaving in a ruthless and delusional manner, the US nevertheless, under newly-elected president Barack Obama, participated in 'Scorched Earth' by carrying out 80 targeted operations - from drones, bombers and warships - in northern Yemen, and killing at least 473 people, according to Human Rights Watch. The justification for doing so was that a new terror organization named 'Al-Qaeda-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula' had suddenly sprung up in Yemen, from where it was somehow inducing the teenage sons of rich Nigerians to pack explosives into their underwear and board airplanes bound for the Land of the Free. Yes indeed, the 'underwear bomber' farce was actually about suppressing democracy in Yemen.
Westerners rarely heard about Houthi rebels that time around, but the 2011 uprising in Yemen (one of the 'Arab Spring' revolutions that was not supposed to happen) changed all that. To satisfy protesters' demands, the Saudis replaced Saleh with his long-time number 2, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, a weak leader whose efforts to form a unity government could not placate the nationwide groundswell for real change. With constitutional reforms still not forthcoming, the Houthis took power in the capital Sana'a in January 2015. Al-Hadi and his government resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia.
For an all-too-brief moment, it looked like the people of Yemen had finally shaken off the curse of colonialism to begin charting their own course. But the House of Saud had other plans. Having run to Riyadh, the former President Al-Hadi then rescinded his resignation and declared his overthrow an 'unconstitutional coup'. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2201, which petitioned the Houthis to immediately withdraw from government institutions, and for all parties to agree on a time frame for 1.) drafting constitutional reform, 2.) holding a referendum to ratify the new constitution, and 3.) conducting elections under the new electoral law.
One wonders what was going through the Russian delegation's mind as it abstained during this UN vote, considering the US position vis a vis the 'legitimacy' of presidents Assad and Yanukovich. When justifying the violent coup d'état in Ukraine in 2014, US spokeswoman Jen Psaki claimed that Yanukovich had lost all legitimacy because he "abdicated his responsibilities by fleeing Kiev during a political crisis." He didn't; he was running for his life, unlike al-Hadi, who was under house arrest but not under threat of facing a Houthi firing squad.
'Shock and Awe', Obama-style
In any event, the next thing we know, the Saudi ambassador to the US is announcing - at a press conference in Washington, DC - that his country's air force has commenced airstrikes in 'Operation Decisive Storm' against Houthi targets. Nine countries had been enlisted to provide military support and troops to Saudi Arabia - Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Somali airspace was also 'made available' to the coalition, a remarkable feat of international diplomacy given that Somalia is a failed state with no central government.
The Saudi ambassador's press conference had barely ended before the US government issued a statement saying it would be providing "logistical and intelligence support" to the Saudi campaign, as well as establishing a "joint planning cell" with Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate the airstrikes. The British government recently acknowledged that its 'specialists' are present inside Saudi command centers, where their invaluable 'expertise' - gleaned from decimating Iraq, Libya and Syria - assists the Wahhabist regime's military in selecting targets. The whole thing had obviously been pre-arranged by the US government, and behind closed doors, with no UN mandate or basis in international law required.
What is actually happening in Yemen is pretty much the scenario the US claims is playing out in Syria; a popular uprising being brutally suppressed. Except, in this case, the US, through its royalist puppets in the region, is playing the role of 'brutal dictator deliberately killing civilians'. Again we see that the truth does not just radically differ from the Western narrative; it's completely inverted. While posturing over the 'democratic legitimacy' of Al-Hadi, Saudi Arabia, a country that wouldn't recognize democracy if it smashed into it in the form of a fiery comet, has used every dirty trick in the book to topple the Syrian government.
And so Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, using recently-purchased British and American weapons, and guided by British and American 'advisers', suddenly and violently intervened in Yemen. Not only that, their military is staffed by officers from the UK and elsewhere. Qatar, for example, only recently began training its own pilots; it's air force is almost entirely a NATO outfit - French bombers, American bombs, British pilots and technicians.
Just as European countries were pushed out in front for the obliteration of Libya in 2011, 'Operation Decisive Storm' is the US 'leading from behind', part of the Obama-era 'liberal' re-formulation of the empire's aggressive post-9/11 foreign policy. It's the same 'shock and awe' conducted by the Bush regime, except that it's delivered covertly via the military structures of its vassals, enabling the US government to pull the strings behind Saudi Arabia's blatant violation of Yemen's sovereignty.
Saudi-Western War Crimes
So what targets are the British and Americans telling the Saudis to strike? Well, the airstrikes are clearly not just aimed at the rebels, but at large sections of the Yemeni population. We can only conclude from this that their purpose is to destabilize the whole nation. Schools, hospitals, mosques, homes, refugee camps, daycare centres, markets, factories, power plants, food storage warehouses, and entire neighborhoods have been pulverized. The airport in Sana'a, the port in Hudaydah, roads, embassies and weddings have also been targeted. On July 24th last year, the Saudis destroyed a power plant and surrounding homes in the port city of Mokha, killing at least 120 civilians. Bagil Jafar Qasim, Director-General of the Mokha power plant, reported:
Bombs targeted them [the residents], without any warning. We don't know why. We were very shocked. We never expected that they would target a residential area full of children, women, and workers. Sixty were killed in the housing compound.
Several hours after this attack, the Saudis announced a five-day 'humanitarian ceasefire', the second such five-day truce last year. Three days in, Saudi jets targeted several provinces, hitting - among other sites - markets and hotels. The latest 'ceasefire' was announced on 15 December 2015 and was meant to last for seven days. Shortly before this truce was to take effect, the Saudis launched two raids on the village of Bani al-Haddad, and shortly afterwards, they launched airstrikes in the northern province of Hajjah. What can we conclude form this but that Saudis are proposing and exploiting ceasefires in order to gain 'military advantage', namely to terrorize the civilian population into relinquishing their support for the rebels.
A UN panel investigating the terror-bombing in Yemen announced last week that the Saudi-led coalition is conducting "widespread and systematic" attacks on civilians and civilian-related targets. Coming under pressure to cease sending billions' worth of weapons to the Saudis, the British government responded in the only way it knows how: by having its Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, tell the UK parliament that the UN panel's report was based on 'lies' spread by the Houthis.
Obviously well-trained by the Masters of Terror, Saudi coalition jets have also been conducting double-tap airstrikes (where an initial, smaller bombing tempts rescuers, family members and neighbours to approach the site and search through wreckage for survivors, only for everyone in the vicinity to be wiped out by a second, larger bomb). While US-made bombs rain down from UK-made jets, foreign ISIS/al-Qaeda operatives (which are basically operating as Saudi and Qatari ground forces) ensure there is no refuge for civilians by blowing up the mosques where they take shelter, and committing targeted assassinations of local leaders who support the Houthi revolution.
A combination of cowardice, inexperience, and 'affluenza' means the Saudis have little stomach for engaging in any of the dirty work of direct military engagement with the determined rebels. So the Kingdom has subcontracted 'boots on the ground' to private armies like Blackwater (aka Xe, Academi, and now Constellis). Completely unreported in the West are the deaths of British, American, French, South African, Australian and Colombian nationals in Yemen in recent months, all of them foreign mercenaries brought in to suppress the rebellion.
The bloodthirsty Saudis can expect to enjoy another year of military support from Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, more fighter jets from the US, UK and Israel, and cluster bombs from the US. In a period of nine months, Saudi Arabia spent over $60 billion on this campaign. In the absence of Russian-Iranian intervention or some other miracle, respite for the people of Yemen may come in the fact that the 70% oil price collapse has hammered the Kingdom's budget, which could soon see it default on its debts. The IMF is warning that - at the rate it is currently hemorrhaging money - Saudi Arabia will be coming to it, cap-in-hand, for loans by 2020.
Westerners have been oblivious to Yemenis' screams in part because they're focused on what is immediately visible: 'the refugee crisis' - specifically the 'Syrian refugee crisis'. That particular refugee stream has been politicized to advance the Western agenda of forcing regime change in Syria - and possibly that country's dismemberment. And yes, the case can be made that European leaders were essentially given orders last year to 'stand down' and suddenly let in - against standard practice - unusually large numbers of people fleeing from Daesh in Syria.
But the purpose of this was not to enable 'Muslim hordes' to take over and institute 'Sharia law in Europe' or to 'destroy Western civilization'. The purpose was to advance the longer-term post-9/11 agenda of fomenting a 'clash of civilizations' that justifies the imposition of police state measures everywhere. Whether you self-identify as a Muslim, Christian, European, libertarian, socialist, traditionalist, atheist, or whatever, as far as the global elite are concerned, we're all 'hordes' that 'destroy civilization' and must therefore be terrorized, hystericized, and anaesthetized into ever finer orders of control.
In the meantime, Europe is left to pick up the pieces from wars that are primarily Washington's doing - the results of which are increasing chaos in the cities refugees are migrating to, and a toxic atmosphere that is thick with hysteria and outrage, some of it justified, but much of it rich with the scent of fascism.
In the midst of this 'rude awakening', however, it seems to have become lost on Westerners that those refugees 'coming over here to tarnish our White European Values' are the result of precisely such Western corporate joint ventures as the ongoing obliteration of Yemen. There is a real danger of all that anger generated against the political class over the last decade - after they bailed out the banksters and made the people pay for it - being 'transmuted' into rage at the refugees.
The UNHCR estimates the attack on Yemen has generated 140,000 refugees within Yemen thus far - a number it expects will reach 250,000 by the end of 2016. Then we must factor in the 246,000 registered refugees in Yemen prior to the Saudi-led intervention, 95 per cent of whom are Somalis which Yemenis sheltered after Western proxy intervention in Somalia in the early 2000s. That's another half a million people. Saudi Arabia and the rich Gulf states won't let them in, so where do you think they're ultimately going to begin migrating to?
Other than Iran, which sent its second humanitarian aid ship in June 2015, the only country that seems to give a damn about the Yemeni population is Russia, whose government sent two planes with 46 tons of food and tents in July 2015, and another plane with 23 tons of aid two months ago. They have both tried to deliver more, but the aerial and naval blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia has forced planes and ships to turn back. Currently, Russia has called on all parties to cease hostilities and re-commence negotiations on Yemen's constitutional future. It does not look like Russian intervention is on the cards, but then again, everything is in flux.
The present is hell for Yemen, and the future doesn't look any better. It's one more killing field in a world pock-marked with them, slaughtered on the altar of NATO-stan hegemony.
If there's anything we can do, it is to at least be aware of the situation and to realize that Western governments are causing, supporting and encouraging the mass murder of thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians. It's especially incumbent on us to recognize their hypocrisy and lies when they say they want to 'protect' us from chaos and anarchy while delivering precisely that. Other ways we can contribute is by sharing information on what happens in Yemen on social media, and to boycott products made in Saudi Arabia. We shouldn't look away like most in the 'free world' do when such war crimes occur, whether it's close to home or in a land far away.