Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Thu, Mar 31st, 2016

Tunnel Vision on Yemen

It has now been more than a year since a Saudi-led coalition of the willing-to-be-bribed-or-sell-weapons began an illegal and indiscriminate bombing campaign against the Huthi/Salih alliance in Yemen. By any logical measure, this campaign has been an unmitigated disaster for all involved.


Even a teenager could figure that out. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that 21.2 million Yemenis (82% of the population) need some form of humanitarian assistance. OCHA reports: “This includes 14.4 million people unable to meet their food needs (of whom 7.6 million are severely food insecure), 19.4 million who lack clean water and sanitation (of whom 9.8 million lost access to water due to conflict), 14.1 million without adequate healthcare, and at least 2.7 million who have fled their homes within Yemen or to neighbouring countries.” The number of civilian dead, far beyond the numbers quoted in many media reports, is probably well above 10,000 at this point, not to mention the “military” casualties. Close to 600 medical facilities have been closed due to damage; over 1,170 schools are no longer able to function, leaving 3.4 million children with no schooling. The per capita GDP, resulting from an almost total shutdown of the economy, is now estimated at a mere $320.

A year after the involvement of the Saudis in determining the fate of its southern neighbor, the misery of Yemen’s population is at its highest in memory, perhaps in the entire history of what was once known as Arabia Felix. Nor has the war been beneficial to Saudi Arabia. At a time when oil prices are at record lows, the Saudis have spent several billion dollars to buy sophisticated military hardware, bombs and missiles. Despite an attempt to silence criticism of this unjustifiable war, international media are finally beginning to focus on the debacle of this crisis. The recent call for a ceasefire, agreed to by the Huthi coalition but not by al-Qaida or the Islamic State, is as much a sign of the war’s failure as it is a desire to have genuine peace. The much vaunted ground force, populated in large part by mercenaries, has managed to drive the Huthi/Salih forces back north, but has made no inroads at all on the heartland of their resistance. Indeed, Yemeni forces have inflicted damage inside Saudi Arabia along their common border.

But the tunnel vision of the propaganda machine continues. In a somewhat probing interview with al-Jazeera, the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations insisted that all the blame was with the Huthis and that the Saudis were saving the Yemeni population. The pro-war media in the Gulf continues to close its eyes to the darkness of the current crisis precipitated by the Saudis. In a summary of recent Gulf news sources on the anniversary of the war, it seems that victory is in the air. “The success of Operation Decisive Storm is clear for all to see, changing the situation from one of pessimism to optimism,” writes the UAE newspaper Al Bayan.


The Saudi paper al Yaum writes: “If the Houthis and Saleh’s forces were going up against any other opponent, the situation would have been different, because any other force beside Saudi Arabia would not have cared whether the people voluntarily accepted or rejected the Houthi’s control over the lands. Any other force would have thought the people must bear the consequences and destruction of war or opt to wield their guns and combat the ones responsible for dragging the country into a war. Saudi Arabia, however, is adamant on ensuring that the war results in minimum losses, and that is why Saudi Arabia and its allies are very careful to not harm any civilians.” A more pathetic distortion of the facts on the ground is hard to imagine. The Saudis have been accused of multiple war crimes by international organizations, and those countries supplying weapons for the deliberate targeting of civilians are also being chastened.

Reports circulate that the pro-Saudi forces now control 85% of Yemen. The exact nature of these forces is generally not elaborated. The Hadramawt and much of the former PDRY is not at all under Saudi control or the alleged government of Hadi. The attacks against the Huthis have made it possible for the extremist elements of al-Qaida/Ansar Shariah and the Islamic State to effectively control the ground game. Neither is a permanent ally of the Saudis, although only very recently has the Saudi coalition done anything to try and counter the growth of these erstwhile allies. The newest UN-brokered cease fire, scheduled to start April 10, is indeed light at the end of a dismal tunnel. But that tunnel is flooded with blood and devastation that will scar the people of Yemen for a long time to come and sour relations with other Gulf States into the foreseeable future.

About the Author

- 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, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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