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No Alibi for Tit for Tat | Mellanöstern Tidningen Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
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Published On: Tue, Apr 3rd, 2018

No Alibi for Tit for Tat

The Saudi-led bombing campaign of Yemen has entered its fourth year with no end in sight. The humanitarian crisis created by the bombing runs is one of the worst in the world, so bad that the UN has just asked donors for 3 billion dollars for the “estimated 13 million people who urgently need aid in war-ravaged Yemen.” The damage is so extensive that it is difficult to know where to start in describing it.

It is almost two years since the UN announced that the death toll had reached 10,000, but that figure remains in most reporting today. Sadly, some news outlets still put the number less than this. There are both direct and direct deaths from this war with casualties on all sides. Save the Children reported that each day 130 children were dying in Yemen from preventable diseases with at least 50,000 deaths in 2017 alone. Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs warned last November about the looming famine due to the Saudi blockade of Yemen’s north: “It will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims.” As Sophia Akram has noted, “Indeed, there is much more to the death toll than we hear of, and repeating ‘10,000’ over and over again does nothing but dilute the true scale of devastation to the country.”

The Saudi military has conducted over 145,000 missions over Yemen in the first three years of the war, with as many as 130 missions per day. All of these have targeted the Huthis areas rather than areas controlled by al-Qaeda in Yemen. In retaliation there have been a few missiles lobbed by the Huthi coalition into Saudi Arabia but with very little damage. Yet, these limited missiles gain far more attention in the news. While such a response is still in violation of international law, the fact remains that the damage is minimal in comparison with the onslaught of Saudi strikes, which often target civilian sites. As reported by Amnesty International: “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians. But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms. As well as devastating civilian lives, this makes a mockery of the global Arms Trade Treaty.”

The Saudi propaganda that they are responding tit for tat due to Huthi aggression is absurd. The war was started by the Saudi coalition, with Western support, to interupt a regime change in Yemen. Instead of turning to diplomatic negotiation, especially since the Huthis were welcomed into Sanaa after the disastrous interim presidency of Mansur Hadi, a bombing campaign was launched and Yemenis were hired as mercenaries to fight fellow Yemenis. Nor is this an “eye for an eye” matter when one side has literally thousands of eyes poked out and the other is relatively unscathed.

It is true that all sides in this conflict are to blame, but the most potent danger has come from the Saudi bombing and blockade, which has created the humanitarian crisis. The women, children and men being killed are fellow Muslims, even if some major Saudi clerics seem to think otherwise. It is obvious that the real target of the Saudi war machine is Iran, making this a bloody proxy war at Yemen’s expense. But there is no alibi for tit for tat when one side is rich beyond belief and the other poor.

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.