Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sun, May 14th, 2017

A Good Offense?

Yemen is now in the third year of a bombing campaign and mercenary-fueled ground war that has created one of the most pressing humanitarian crises in the world. The bombing started in March, 2015, when Saudi Arabia purchased and cajoled a coalition to wage what many have called a proxy war to combat Iranian influence in the region. In September, 2014 an alliance of Ali Abdullah Salih, the former Yemeni president who was forced to resign, and the tribes supporting the Huthis entered Yemen’s capital Sanaa without bloodshed and eventually placed  the corrupt and unpopular interim President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi under house arrest. By the time Hadi fled Yemen and sought asylum in Saudi Arabia, the wheels were already turning in the new Saudi regime for a retaliatory war against the Huthis. With the figleaf of a hastily contrived United Nations resolution, Saudi planes immediately started bombing the northern part of Yemen, including the entire city of Sa’da. No matter who was in the right, this was an internal affair among Yemenis from the start, not a foreign invasion of Yemen.

There have been quite a few regime-change coups in the former north and south Yemens, but no foreign troops have decided Yemen’s fate since the original Republican revolution in 1962 that created the Yemen Arab Republic with the help of Nasser’s Egypt. Although the republic survived, it was a disastrous move for President Nasser, who lost more than 10,000 soldiers. This Yemeni intervention set the stage for his defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. Relations between Saudi Arabia and the Huthis had spilled over the borders during 2009 when President Salih was fighting several small wars with the Huthis who he considered political rivals. When the Huthis suggested Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as a mediator between all parties, the Saudi cleric Mohammad al-Arifi called al-Sistani “an infidel and debauched,” thus offending Shi’a Muslims worldwide. There were no border incidents with Saudi Arabia during the turmoil following the Arab Spring, nor when the Huthis successfully entered Sanaa in 2014. To argue that Saudi Arabia felt threatened militarily by any force in Yemen is absurd given its massive military arsenal and guarantee of protection by the United States.

This war against Yemen could not be waged without the direct and indirect support of the United States, the United Kingdom and other states willing to provide military equipment, training and operation, especially for the bombing campaigns. The fact that the Yemen war receives relatively little attention in the main media is bad enough, but the support given by Western politicians only makes things worse. The British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has added fuel to the fire in his remarks last week claiming that Saudi Arabia is only defending itself. “Saudi Arabia is being attacked by Houthi rebels across its Southern border with Yemen. It’s had its towns and villages shelled by the Houthis.” It is true that after the bombing began, the Huthi/Salih forces penetrated the weakly defended Saudi border at will, as is often shown in videos on their al-Masirah website. But what Fallon failed to mention is that this was in response to the Saudis who started the war. His remark is akin to saying that the Allies in World War II were wrong to attack the Nazis on D-Day.

Fallon’s statement in support of Saudi aggression is self-serving, Machiavellian politics at its worst. There is an old saying that “the best defense is a good offense.” This is the policy Israel followed in its 6-day war to great success. This is also what the Saudis attempted in launching their Operation Decisive Storm, which has indeed unleashed a gale-force storm of destruction that has been anything but decisive. In this case the Saudis have neither pulled off a good offense nor the best defense. Resorting to mercenaries, primarily paying Yemenis to fight other Yemenis, has become the ground game plan. None of the main GCC partners are willing to commit ground troops when they can buy fighters, including those from Columbia, Sudan and even the United States. A group of the richest countries in the world are destroying one of the poorest countries in the world.

The United Kingdom’s duplicity matches that of the United States in supporting this conflict. Despite signing a treaty that banned exporting cluster bombs, Fallon admitted last December that the UK has sold such cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, which has used them in Yemen. In late 2016 Saudi Arabia was joined by Yemen’s Hadi and 37 other states in voting against a new measure to ban cluster bombs. Nor has the United States voted for the banning of this atrocious weapon designed to take maximum casualties. If you care to see the mutilated body of a Yemeni victimized by a cluster bomb, click here. Secretary Fallon’ defense of Saudi aggression is deeply offensive, part of an overarching dismissal of basic human rights to all Yemenis in this conflict.

About the Author

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Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, a Senior Postdoctoral Scholar at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.