The Slaughter of Yemen and the Wider Threat of a Gulf War

Published June 16th, 2019 - 08:14 GMT
The tankers war heats up in the Gulf of Oman (AFP File Photo)
The tankers war heats up in the Gulf of Oman (AFP File Photo)

The war on Yemen by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates under the euphemism of the Arab Coalition, has got to stop. The conflict, now in its fifth years has brought nothing but misery and heartache to the people of the country now under the threat of famine, cholera and absolute banishment that equals to World War I, World War II, and other major global destructive conflicts. 


Saudi Arabia must stop as well because it should know by now its war on Yemen is “unwinnable”. Many states have tried in the past to conquer that country but could not because of the rugged geographical terrain of Yemen with its harsh mountainous areas and the unruly nature of its tribal society. What the Saudis and their allies are doing now is “slowly” destroying an intricate social fabric that is best left alone because of what can be seen as the “Yemeni specifity”. 

Nobody is Listening

The heartache lies in the fact nobody is listening; neither the Houthis, who took over the country and its capital Sanaa in a 2014 coup which sent the established government ministers scurrying for their lives, the Saudis who took it upon themselves to re-establish the cabinet and their international backers like the United States, UK and France who have come to fuel the conflict by providing the weapons and logistical support to the Saudis. 

The heartache lies in the fact nobody is listening

This is not to forget Iran, regarded as a menace in the region and supporting the Shiite Houthis, who are in actual fact closer to the Sunnis and are seen as part-and-parcel of the Yemeni social structure. The role of Iran in backing the Houthis however, maybe grossly exaggerated although it has been known to provide this distinct minority with weapons and know-how. How much of that is true nobody really knows but the exaggeration of Tehran’s role has been mainly due to some Persian ministers and officials who boasted that Iran controls three Arab capitals, Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad, through its military machine and/or proxy military militias like Hizbollah and now the Houthis.

The exaggeration of Tehran’s role has been mainly due to some Persian ministers and officials who boasted that Iran controls three Arab capitals, Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad

When the war on Yemen started in early 2015 it was because of such boasts and the Saudi fear that Iran is poised on controlling the strategic balance of power in the region with the “Persian bogeyman” standing on the doors of Riyadh, Mecca, Jeddah, and the oil-rich region eastern province which itself has around 6 million Saudi Shiites that could become a salient 5th column. Of course this was the theory, if not the actual practice. If course in these years, ISIS became active in Saudi Arabia through mosque suicide bombings and although it had no direct bearing on the Sunni-Shiite equation, it made the authorities very nervous inside the Kingdom. 

The quagmire 

Saudi policy-makers essentially thought the war on Yemen would only last few week and months at the most before the “legitimacy” of the government in Sanaa’ was restored and things went back to normal with Riyadh controlling the regional power strings. But this was not to be so with the benefit of hindsight. Indeed one can conjecture now that if Riyadh knew what it was getting into, it would not have gotten itself involved and let sleeping dogs lie. This is despite the fact that the Yemeni war adventure made a turnaround in Saudi foreign policy that has become more “thrust-forward and extrovert” rather than in being behind-the-scene soft-power instrument. 

That meant Riyadh slowly got into an entrenchment mode from the air and the sea, allocating mass military resources with huge financial budgets that ultimately become wasteful. The Houthis in Yemen spread from Saada, their northern provincial capital, to Sana, and the middle and souther parts of the country including parts such as the strategic Hodiedyeh Port in the west. Beating the Houthis into submission was not an easy act as it was first thought. 

Riyadh slowly got into an entrenchment mode from the air and the sea, allocating mass military resources with huge financial budgets that ultimately become wasteful

With a vast areas to cover, the so-called Arab Coalition begun dropping missiles, rockets and bombs right, left and centre on populations. Human rights organisations have described this as indiscriminate killings helped by the United States which initially provided the air-fuelling for the coalition fighter jets and which was later voted down by the American Congress.  

This was because by 2018, at least 17,000 civilians died as verified by the United Nations with the number of displaced standing at 3.2 million out of a population of around 27 million. In its 2019 report the UN showed the depth of the unfolding humanitarian crisis stating 14.3 million became classified as “being in acute need”, 3.2 million need treatment for “acute malnutrition," including 2 million children under the age of five. These are mind-boggling figures. UN resident coordinator Lisa Grande said that 8.5 million Yemenis daily had “no idea where they will find their next meal or if they will find one”.

In its 2019 report the UN showed the depth of the unfolding humanitarian crisis stating 14.3 million became classified as “being in acute need”, 3.2 million need treatment for “acute malnutrition," including 2 million children under the age of five.

Clearly, the civilians serve as the butt-end of the war with no let up being seen in the future despite UN involvement and the appointments of droves of envoys, the last being Martin Griffiths to try and reach an amicable solution to the conflict. 

Spiralling war 

Despite the high casualty rates, the conflict from both sides have spiralled right from the word go with Saudi policy-makers no longer speaking of a quick win. They were determined to flex their muscles in spite of what the Houthis came to deploy through missiles and in military punitive measures, with the effective use of drones steadily increasing over 2016, 17, 18 and 2019.  At first it was Houthi rockets landing over the borders in Saudi cities and airports in cities like Abha, Najran, Asir, Khamis Mushait.  Then Jeddah, Mecca and Riyadh. They became the targets of the Houthi menacing fire-power that later reached as far away as the United Arab Emirates. 

This was due to the development of drone technology which the Houthis started to use effectively as shown by hitting Saudi oil fields and infrastructure as late as last May and this June.  This technology is now seen as simple, easy-to-use, effective and more importantly dirt-cheap. Plus, drones are used with cameras to help missile targeting inside the Saudi Kingdom. While experts say drones are little more than “irritants” they can be deadly and can be flown from anywhere. 

It is estimated that the war costs the Saudi treasury $200 million daily according to US politician Bruce Riddle who served as advisor to previous presidents in the White House.

In addition, they minus the planes and missiles that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to execute. It is estimated that the war costs the Saudi treasury $200 million daily according to US politician Bruce Riddle who served as advisor to previous presidents in the White House. While they cause great destruction and death and have done so, the drones fired by the Houthis give them a military capability that outweighs their actual weight.

Containing Iran 

With these kind of figures it is difficult to see how can the war continue but this seems to be the least worry for the time-being as the conflict has long developed a regional dimension of shrinking Iran and/or containing its power, which brings us to the present dangerous precipice: Another war in the Gulf. Many are already drawing similarities with the Gulf War of 2003 when America and UK poised themselves to unseating Saddam Hussein from power even though they now admit Iraq never possessed nuclear weapons which was the reason for invading his country.

But this is not 2003 and the world has changed since then. Is it likely that the current war-mongering is just a media hype with the United States ever-belligerent in approach and words but is military-shy and in no way prepared to start another war. Similarly Iran is not prepared for a war although it has made it clear it will not be bullied by anyone. 

In between all this, Yemen has become the sacrificial lamb stuck between great power politics and competing ideologies.

In between all this, Yemen has become the sacrificial lamb stuck between great power politics and competing ideologies.  Yemenis have long became the Wretched of the Earth to use a pun and a title. It is their desperate situation that concerns everyone but no one at the same time with guns, mortars and missiles continuing to pound innocent lives with seemingly no just or human resolution on the horizon.


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