The Geopolitics behind the War in Yemen
Mahdi Darius NAZEMROAYA
The United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became very uneasy when the Yemenese or Yemenite movement of the Houthi or Ansarallah (meaning the supporters of God in Arabic) gained control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa/Sana, in September 2014. The US-supported Yemenite President Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi was humiliatingly forced to share power with the Houthis and the coalition of northern Yemenese tribes that had helped them enter Sana. Al-Hadi declared that negotiations for a Yemeni national unity government would take place and his allies the US and Saudi Arabia tried to use a new national dialogue and mediated talks to co-opt and pacify the Houthis.
The truth has been turned on its head about the war in Yemen. The war and ousting of President Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi in Yemen are not the results of «Houthi coup» in Yemen. It is the opposite. Al-Hadi was ousted, because with Saudi and US support he tried to backtrack on the power sharing agreements he had made and return Yemen to authoritarian rule. The ousting of President Al-Hadi by the Houthis and their political allies was an unexpected reaction to the takeover Al-Hadi was planning with Washington and the House of Saudi.
The Houthis and their allies represent a diverse cross-section of Yemeni society and the majority of Yemenites. The Houthi movement’s domestic alliance against Al-Hadi includes Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims alike. The US and House of Saud never thought that they Houthis would assert themselves by removing Al-Hadi from power, but this reaction had been a decade in the making. With the House of Saud, Al-Hadi had been involved in the persecution of the Houthis and the manipulation of tribal politics in Yemen even before he became president. When he became Yemeni president he dragged his feet and was working against the implement the arrangements that had been arranged through consensus and negotiations in Yemen’s National Dialogue, which convened after Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over his powers in 2011.
Coup or Counter-Coup: What Happened in Yemen?
At first, when they took over Sana in late-2014, the Houthis rejected Al-Hadi’s proposals and his new offers for a formal power sharing agreement, calling him a morally bankrupt figure that had actually been reneging previous promises of sharing political power. At that point, President Al-Hadi’s pandering to Washington and the House of Saud had made him deeply unpopular in Yemen with the majority of the population. Two months later, on November 8, President Al-Hadi’s own party, the Yemenite General People’s Congress, would eject Al-Hadi as its leader too.
The Houthis eventually detained President Al-Hadi and seized the presidential palace and other Yemeni government buildings on January 20. With popular support, a little over two weeks later, the Houthis formally formed a Yemense transitional government on February 6. Al-Hadi was forced to resign. The Houthis declared that Al-Hadi, the US, and Saudi Arabia were planning on devastating Yemen on February 26.
Al-Hadi’s resignation was a setback for US foreign policy. It resulted in a military and operational retreat for the CIA and the Pentagon, which were forced to remove US military personnel and intelligence operatives from Yemen. The Los Angeles Times reported on March 25, citing US officials, that the Houthis had got their hands on numerous secret documents when the seized the Yemeni National Security Bureau, which was working closely with the CIA, that compromised Washington’s operations in Yemen.
Al-Hadi fled the Yemeni capital Sana to Aden n February 21 and declared it the temporary capital of Yemen on March 7. The US, France, Turkey, and their Western European allies closed their embassies. Soon afterwards, in what was probably a coordinated move with the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all relocated the embassies to Aden from Sana. Al-Hadi rescinded his letter of resignation as president and declared that he was forming a government-in-exile.
The Houthis and their political allies refused to fall into line with the demands of the US and Saudi Arabia, which were being articulated through Al-Hadi in Aden and by an increasingly hysteric Riyadh. As a result, Al-Hadi’s foreign minister, Riyadh Yaseen, called for Saudi Arabia and the Arab petro-sheikdoms to militarily intervene to prevent the Houthis from getting control of Yemen’s airspace on March 23. Yaseen told the Saudi mouthpiece Al-Sharg Al-Awsa that a bombing campaign was needed and that a no-fly zone had to be imposed over Yemen.
The Houthis realized that a military struggle was going to begin. This is why the Houthis and their allies in the Yemenite military rushed to control as many Yemeni military airfields and airbases, such as Al-Anad, as quickly as possible. They rushed to neutralize Al-Hadi and entered Aden on March 25.
By the time the Houthis and their allies entered Aden, Al-Hadi had fled the Yemeni port city. Al-Hadi would resurface in Saudi Arabia when the House of Saud started attacking Yemen on March 26. From Saudi Arabia, Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi would then fly to Egypt for a meeting of the Arab League to legitimize the war on Yemen.
Yemen and the Changing Strategic Equation in the Middle East
The Houthi takeover of Sana took place in the same timeframe as a series of success or regional victories for Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and the Resistance Bloc that they and other local actors form collectively. In Syria, the Syrian government managed to entrench its position while in Iraq the ISIL/ISIS/Daesh movement was being pushed back by Iraq with the noticeable help of Iran and local Iraqi militias allied to Tehran.
The strategic equation in the Middle East began to shift as it became clear that Iran was becoming central to its security architecture and stability. The House of Saud and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began to whimper and complain that Iran was in control of four regional capitals—Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and Sana – and that something had to be done to stop Iranian expansion. As a result of the new strategic equation, the Israelis and the House of Saud became perfectly strategically aligned with the objective of neutralizing Iran and its regional allies. «When the Israelis and Arabs are on the same page, people should pay attention», Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer told Fox News about the alignment of Israel and Saudi Arabia on March 5.
The Israeli and Saudi fear mongering has not worked. According to Gallup poll, only 9% of US citizens viewed Iran as a greatest enemy of the US at the time that Netanyahu arrived t Washington to speak against a deal between the US and Iran.
The Geo-Strategic Objectives of the US and Saudis Behind the War in Yemen
While the House of Saudi has long considered Yemen a subordinate province of some sorts and as a part of Riyadh’s sphere of influence, the US wants to make sure that it could control the Bab Al-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden, and the Socotra Islands. The Bab Al-Mandeb it is an important strategic chokepoint for international maritime trade and energy shipments that connects the Persian Gulf via the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea. It is just as important as the Suez Canal for the maritime shipping lanes and trade between Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Israel was also concerned, because control of Yemen could cut off Israel’s access to Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and prevent its submarines from easily deploying to the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran. This is why control of Yemen was actually one of Netanyahu’s talking points on Capitol Hill when he spoke to the US Congress about Iran on March 3 in what the New York Times of all publications billed as «Mr. Netanyahu’s Unconvincing Speech to Congress» on March 4.
Saudi Arabia was visibly afraid that Yemen could become formally align to Iran and that the evens there could result in new rebellions in the Arabian Peninsula against the House of Saud. The US was just as much concerned about this too, but was also thinking in terms of global rivalries. Preventing Iran, Russia, or China from having a strategic foothold in Yemen, as a means of preventing other powers from overlooking the Gulf of Aden and positioning themselves at the Bab Al-Mandeb, was a major US concern.
Added to the geopolitical importance of Yemen in overseeing strategic maritime corridors is its military’s missile arsenal. Yemen’s missiles could hit any ships in the Gulf of Aden or Bab Al-Mandeb. In this regard, the Saudi attack on Yemen’s strategic missile depots serves both US and Israeli interests. The aim is not only to prevent them from being used to retaliate against exertions of Saudi military force, but to also prevent them from being available to a Yemeni government aligned to either Iran, Russia, or China.
In a public position that totally contradicts Riyadh’s Syria policy, the Saudis threatened to take military action if the Houthis and their political allies did not negotiate with Al-Hadi. As a result of the Saudi threats, protests erupted across Yemen against the House of Saud on March 25. Thus, the wheels were set in motion for another Middle Eastern war as the US, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait began to prepare to reinstall Al-Hadi.
The Saudi March to War in Yemen and a New Front against Iran
For all the talk about Saudi Arabia as a regional power, it is too weak to confront Iran alone. The House of Saud’s strategy has been to erect or reinforce a regional alliance system for a drawn confrontation with Iran and the Resistance Bloc. In this regard Saudi Arabia needs Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan —a misnamed so-called «Sunni» alliance or axis — to help it confront Iran and its regional allies.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s military, would visit Morocco to talk about a collective military response to Yemen by the Arab petro-sheikhdoms, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt on March 17. On March 21, Mohammed bin Zayed met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to discuss a military response to Yemen. This was while Al-Hadi was calling for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to help him by militarily intervening in Yemen. The meetings were followed by talk about a new regional security pact for the Arab petro-sheikdoms.
Out of the GCC’s five members, the Sultanate of Oman stayed away. Oman refused to join the war on Yemen. Muscat has friendly relations with Tehran. Moreover, the Omanis are weary of the Saudi and GCC project to use sectarianism to ignite confrontation with Iran and its allies. The majority of Omanis are neither Sunni Muslims nor Shiite Muslims; they are Ibadi Muslims, and they fear the fanning of sectarian sedition by the House of Saud and the other Arab petro-sheikdoms.
Saudi propagandists went into over drive falsely claiming that the war was a response to Iranian encroachment on the borders of Saudi Arabia. Turkey would announce its support for the war in Yemen. On the day the war was launched, Turkey’s Erdogan claimed that Iran was trying to dominate the region and that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC were getting annoyed.
During these events, Egypt’s Sisi stated that the security of Cairo and the security of Saudi Arabia and the Arab petro-sheikhdoms are one. In fact, Egypt said that it would not get involved in a war in Yemen on March 25, but the next day Cairo joined Saudi Arabia in Riyadh’s attack on Yemen by sending its jets and ships to Yemen.
In the same vein, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif released a statement on March 26 that any threat to Saudi Arabia would «evoke a strong response» from Pakistan. The message was tacitly directed towards Iran.
The US and Israeli Roles in the War in Yemen
On March 27, it was announced in Yemen that Israel was helping Saudi Arabia attack the Arab country. «This is the first time that the Zionists [Israelis] are conducting a joint operation in collaborations with Arabs,» Hassan Zayd, the head of Yemen’s Al-Haq Party, wrote on the internet to point out the convergence of interests between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Israeli-Saudi alliance over Yemen, however, is not new. The Israelis helped the House of Saud during the North Yemen Civil War that started in 1962 by providing Saudi Arabia with weapons to help the royalists against the republicans in North Yemen.
The US is also involved and leading from behind or a distance. While it works to strike a deal with Iran, it also wants to maintain an alliance against Tehran using the Saudis. The Pentagon would provide what it called «intelligence and logistical support» to House of Saud. Make no mistakes about it: the war on Yemen is also Washington’s war. The GCC has been on Yemen unleashed by the US.
There has long been talk about the formation of a pan-Arab military force, but proposals for creating it were renewed on March 9 by the rubberstamp Arab League. The proposals for a united Arab military serve US, Israeli, and Saudi interests. Talk about a pan-Arab military has been motivated by their preparations to attack Yemen to return Al-Hadi and to regionally confront Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and the Resistance Bloc.
The Strange War in Yemen
The Senselessness of Joining in a Sunni vs. Shiite War
by GARY LEUPP
What sense does this make? The U.S. is abetting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan. Morocco and Sudan—all ruled by Sunni Muslims who despise Shiite Muslims—to attack and roll back advances by the Shiite Houthis of Yemen who are eager to fight al-Qaeda and ISIL in that impoverished, unstable nation.
Recall that shortly after 9/11, the George W. Bush administration declared that “he who is not for us is against us,” scaring the shit out of anyone hesitant to cooperate with U.S. war plans. Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had come to power in 1990, cooperated with the U.S. during the first Gulf War, arranged to get his nation removed from the U.S.’s “terror sponsor” list, purchased weapons from the U.S., and cooperated in the investigation of the al-Qaeda attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemeni waters in 2000, rushed to Washington in November 2001 to declare fealty.
This meeting was followed up by a meeting between Vice President Dick Cheney, de facto leader of the U.S. “War on Terror” and Saleh in Yemen’s capital Sana’a in March 2002. In the interim the U.S. announced that it would send hundreds of troops to Yemen and afterwards the Yemeni government confirmed that the U.S. would dispatch 200 “advisers” to train local troops against al-Qaeda terrorists (whom, by the way, were then small in number but have burgeoned steadily ever since).
In Yemen on March 14 Cheney stated that the U.S. was “being responsive to Yemen’s request for training its special forces in their counter-terrorism mission, [and also] planning to address essential military equipment needs and to increase assistance to Yemen’s Coast Guard and economy.” But on April 11 Saleh told al-Jazeera the real story: “As for the American anti-terror security experts and technical equipment, it is not we who requested them. It is the U.S. government that said ‘prove your genuineness and let the experts in’ so we let them in.”
Meanwhile Yemen’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) accused U.S. ambassador Edmond Hull of “interfering” in domestic affairs and threatened to expel him. “Since he was appointed (last September), ambassador Edmond Hull has behaved like a high commissioner, not like a diplomat in a country which is opposed to any form of interference” by a foreign state, reported a GPC-linked newspaper. “Edmund Hull adopts a very haughty behaviour, far-removed from his diplomatic duties, when he speaks to certain Yemeni officials,” adding that Hull should “respect Yemen in order not to become persona non grata.” From the very beginning of the U.S.-Yemen alliance, the relationship has been characterized by mutual antipathy.
Thirteen years and countless anti-U.S. demonstrations later—protesting U.S. political interference, the asinine anti-Islam Youtube video of 2012, and most importantly the drone strikes—radical Islamists are more numerous and active than ever in the Arab world’s poorest country, where 45% of the people live under the poverty line. Over 800 “al-Qaeda militants” have supposedly been killed by drone strikes, but it’s hard to know how much credibility to attach to the claim. The Obama administration considers any post-pubescent male in the wrong place at the wrong time a “combatant” suitable for slaughter.
In November 2011, the 40-year-old U.S.-born cleric Anwar Awlaki was killed by a drone strike. Few in this country mourned, although the legal precedent (target-killing a U.S. citizen that way without any trial or conviction of a crime) caused some unease in some quarters. Less attention was given to a separate strike the next day that apparently targeted and killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son and a teenage cousin. Apparently their only crime was the family connection.
According to the Long War Journal, 35 civilians were killed in U.S. drone strikes in 2012, along with 193 considered “militants.” A 12-year-old boy was among the victims of a strike Feb. 9 this year, after which Slate Magazine asked, “What if drones are part of the problem?” What if they’re just generating more of what the CIA calls “blowback”?
Recall that during the “Arab Spring” of 2011, President Obama concluded at some point that Egypt’s President Mubarak, who had long been a “staunch ally” of the U.S. , had become so unpopular with his people that further U.S. support would damage the relationship with Egypt. So he gave Mubarak his marching orders. (You can do that if you’re the president of the United States.
The Egyptian dictator was succeeded by a democratically elected member of the Muslim Brotherhood, then toppled by the military with tacit U.S. approval. In Yemen, where the “spring” also brought massive protests against the regime in power, Obama ordered long-time U.S. ally Saleh to step down. Saleh was obliged to comply in February 2012, while remaining active behind the scenes in his retirement.
Before that—in the early months of the “Arab Spring” in 2011—Glevum Associates conducted a poll in Yemen of 1005 adult men and women. Its results are telling. It found that 88% of Yemenis at the time thought their country was heading “in the wrong direction.” 98% had an unfavorable perception of the U.S. government (55% “very unfavorable,” 43% “somewhat unfavorable”). Only 40% approved strongly or somewhat with President Saleh’s cooperation with the U.S.
99% opposed the U.S.-led “War on Terrorism.” 99% had an unfavorable perception of U.S. relations with the Islamic world.
66% thought the U.S. had no or very little concern about Yemeni interests. The analysts concluded, “The overwhelming majority of Yemenis think that the economic, military and cultural influence of the U.S. in the world is bad and that the U.S. does not take into account the interests of countries like Yemen when it acts.”
52% of those surveyed thought that the Arab League was best able to help Yemen (only 1% thought this of the U.S.). Perhaps most shocking, Anwar Awlaki’s popularity exceeded that of President Saleh’s.
On September 12, 2012 demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy in protest of the anti-Islam film posted on YouTube. They were mistaken in supposing that the U.S. government was behind it, or might have prevented it, but this was an indication of the profoundly anti-U.S. sentiments documented in the Gleuvum Associated study. In November there were more demonstrations in Sana’a, this time in support of the ousted Saleh, blaming the U.S. for his departure. They were largely Shiite-led demonstrations.
This is significant. It showed that Saleh (depicted in U.S. propaganda as a casualty of a popular uprising) actually retained his own social base in a complicated society, and that while he had fought the Houthis in the past, with Saudi and U.S. support, he was now aligning himself with Houthis and his fellow Shiites in general against the U.S.-orchestrated Hadi regime.
The U.S. political class and State Department-briefed mainstream press have shown themselves (again) to be totally clueless about intra-Muslim issues. It is as though they find these problems so arcane, requiring so much homework to figure out, that they can dispense with them all together and boil them all down to one allegation: Iran is the headquarters of global Shiism, and wherever Shiites are struggling to retain or acquire power, Iran must be held responsible for their actions.
Syria is led by Alewites, a branch or offshoot of Shiism. Ergo, Tehran supports the Assad regime. Hizbollah in Lebanon is a Shiite movement, so it must be a pawn of Iran. The demonstrators in Bahrain as mainly Shiites; thus the mullahs in Iran are instigating their protests. The Houthis are Shiites, so Iran must be driving their rebellion in a bid to dominate Yemen.
This interpretation is absurd. It is immediately refuted by the fact that Iran has not embraced the cause of Azerbaijan, and its claim to Nagorno-Kabarakh, in relation to the Republic of Armenia that supports the independence of the ethnically Armenian region surrounded by and claimed by Azerbaijan. (In 1923 the Soviet government made the decision to make Nagorno-Kabarakh an autonomous oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR. With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the new leaders in Azerbaijan sought to retain control over the region—rather like the new Georgian state tried to retain control over South Ossetia and Abhkazia. Armenia supported the secessionists in the subsequent Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988 to 1992.)
Iran is the largest primarily Shiite nation in the world, with 81 million people, 90 to 95% of them Shiites. Iraq is number two; of its 32 million people, 60 to 65% are Shiites. Azerbaijan is the third most populous mainly Shiite nation in the world, with 8 million people, around 85% of them Shiites. The Azeris have a mixed Iranian-Turkish culture. And there are only four majority Shiite nations in the world, after all (the last being Bahrain). Shouldn’t Iran be best friends with them?
The answer is no. Tehran is more friendly with Christian Armenia than it is with Shiite Azerbaijan, for various geopolitical reasons that have little to do with the Shiite religion. But how often do you recall this matter being discussed in the U.S. press?
Still, Shiism is an important factor in political and military events in the region. U.S. policy in Iraq from 2003 produced the sort of civil conflict between the Shiite majority and Sunni minority that Baathist secularism had kept in check for decades. The fools in charge, arrogantly traipsing around Baghdad in cowboy boots, had no idea their policies would give rise to Iran-backed Shiite parties and militias rising to power on the one hand, and a Sunni resistance vulnerable to terrorist manipulation and even leadership on the other. The current confrontation between ISIL and combined Iraqi and Iranian forces, that has shaped up so dramatically and unexpectedly, is a lesson in what absolute stupidity and indifference to religious history can produce.
Look at a religious map of the Middle East. To enlarge here
Notice how there are Shiite communities from Afghanistan to the Anatolian Peninsula and the Levant. (There are also millions in India and Pakistan.) Notice how the island country of Bahrain, located across the Persian Gulf from Iran, is mostly Shiite. Over 60%, in fact, but it is ruled by a Sunni monarch. Feeling themselves victims of discrimination, Shiites rose up in the “Arab Spring” in peaceful demonstrations. The king, Hamad ibn Isa Al Khaifa, cracked down severely, and in March 2011, Saudi Arabia and other member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council invaded to quell disturbances. “I saw them chasing Shiites,” one Sunni resident of the city of Sitra recalled, “like they were hunting.”
It might be worth noting in this connection that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to Washington from 1983 to 2005 (and a dear friend of the Bush family) once told MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove that, “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will literally be ‘God help the Shia.’ More than a billion Shia have simply had enough of them.” A chilling prediction?
The Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain came just after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had paid a call on the king to thank him for hosting the U.S. Fifth Fleet. The U.S. position on the suppression of this particular expression of the “Arab Spring” was to reiterate its support for the Bahraini and Saudi governments, both of whom blamed Iran for inciting the Bahrainis to rise up. Little evidence has ever been adduced for that.
Similarly, after Shiites in Lebanon responded to the Israeli invasion in 1982 by forming the resistance movement Hizbollah (now aligned with more secular Shiite-based Amal Movement), that movement has been dismissed by its foes as mere proxies and puppets of Iran. As though oppression and invasion do not in themselves invite resistance, but the latter has to be explained in terms of outside agitators’ nefarious interference!
There is in fact a close relationship between Iran and Hizbollah, due in part to deep religious affinities and the studies of its clerics in Iran’s holy city of Qom. But Hizbollah also enjoys close ties to Baathist Syria, which is a far different and more liberal society than Iran. (Women need not wear headscarves. Beer is brewed and sold legally. The state is officially secular, etc.) Those prone to deny the reality of oppressed people’s agency need to depict them as someone else’s surrogates.
And so we come to Yemen. It seems the Bahrain intervention was a mini-dress rehearsal for this, just without the bombs. The Saudis are amassing a huge force to invade, abetted by their allies and receiving logistical and intelligence support from the U.S. Why?
The Yemeni government has long faced multiple insurgencies, including a southern secessionist movement dating back the unification of North Yemen (the Republic of Yemen) and South Yemen (the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen) in 1990. That movement has Baathist and Nasserite elements and is a separate phenomenon from al-Qaeda and ISIL movements in the south. Neither is related to the Shiite movement led by the powerful Houthi tribe in the north. (The Shiite population of Yemen is estimated at 30-35% of the population, the great majority members of the Zaidi denomination of Shiism. This is quite distinct from the form of Shiism prevalent in Iran.)
For many years Houthis have campaigned for a more representative government in Sana’a, and for a greater Houthi voice in parliament (which they dissolved last month). Their primarily peaceful protests, which have never evolved into secessionist demands, met with violent repression in 2004, by the Saleh regime. This led to a six-year war ending in a ceasefire in 2010.
Ironically perhaps, President Saleh was and is a Zaidi Shiite himself, like the Houthis. But he is not overly religious and (according to the Gleuven report) was as well supported by the Sunnis as the Shiites in Yemen while in power. He resigned as noted above in February 2012. In the election for his successor, Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni, ran unopposed with U.S. blessing. The point was to appease the masses who had called for Saleh’s resignation (not that he lacked a certain social base which remains supportive), while insuring the continuation of the status quo particularly the U.S. alliance.
But Hadi was less adept at handling the situation(s) in the south, raising Houthi concerns of an al-Qaeda or ISIL takeover or division of the country. Having already obtained control over the governates of Sa’da and al-Jawf (where they have eradicated al-Qaeda), they pressed south to the capital of Sana’a, taking it virtually without bloodshed in January. Representing maybe 40% of the Yemeni population, they seem to enjoy considerable support. They indeed appear to have ex-president Saleh’s support at this point.
In a New York Times interview published February 10 the leader of the Houthi militia, Saleh Ali al-Sammad, said he wanted Yemen to have good relations with the U.S. and other countries, including Saudi Arabia, so long as national sovereignty was respected. He added that the Houthies would reach out to political rivals. Why is Saudi Arabia so determined to crush them—if not to strike terror into the hearts of Shiites everywhere, particularly the rulers of Iran?
The current round of Saudi bombing of the Houthis is by no means the first. In 2009 alone, the Saudi Air Force dropped U.S.-made cluster bombs on 164 locations in the northern province of Sa’ada from U.S.-supplied F-15S fighter jets and UK-supplied Tornado aircraft. On January 22, 2010 UPI reported that Saudi fighter jets had made bombing raids over Houthi rebel positions in northern Yemen, killing about a dozen people and destroying homes.
In late 2010, the director of Amnesty international UK, Kate Allen, reported that over the previous year “Saudi Arabia’s fighter bombers – very likely supplied by the UK – have taken part in the Yemeni government’s massive bombardments of entire villages in Yemen’s restive north, an operation targeting Shia rebels. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians have been killed, with thousands more forced to flee their homes.” Such reports have drawn little attention, much less outrage, in this country wedded at the hip to the Saudi absolute monarchy that routinely beheads people found guilt of adultery, homosexuality or even “witchcraft.”
Some talking head on CNN or MSNBC was noting how odd it is for the U.S. to be supporting Shiite militias led by Iranian officers against (Sunni) ISIL fighters in Iraq, while supporting Sunnis against Shiites in Yemen. Of course there’s more to it than U.S. forces siding confusedly with this or that form of Islam in the Middle East, or tolerating the expansion of Iranian influence in one country while challenging it in another. It’s not that simple.
In Iraq, the U.S. cannot allow the regime it brought to power (however disappointing its performance has been, causing some to charge in exasperation that “We did all this for them, and then they blew it!”) to fall to forces even more hideous than al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Even if it does mean making common cause with Iran and the al-Sadr Brigades. The alternative—ISIL in Baghdad, crucifying and beheading, blowing up monuments—would show the world all too clearly how utterly evil and inexcusable the invasion and occupation of Iraq (that directly produced these results) have been.
And on the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda’s original breeding ground, it cannot alienate the Saudi leaders, whose cooperation is vital in containing al-Qaeda and ISIL, promoting peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict and most importantly supplying a steady flow of cheap oil to the world market. A Shiite-led Yemen engaged in ongoing conflict with its Wahhabi Sunni-ruled neighbor could lead to all-out war in the Middle East, pitting Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hizbollah against a coalition of Sunni tyrannies whose religious prejudices (that mean nothing to Washington) could draw this country into even more disaster.
The arrogant Americans who once thought they could call the shots in Yemen have been forced to flee the country with their tails between their legs. Obama, who as recently as last September proclaimed Yemen as a model of the “strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines” has been embarrassed by the collapse of his partners.
In January Hadi resigned as president, citing an irresolvable political “stalemate.” Under house arrest, his home surrounded by Houthi forces, he was able to flee to Aden in February, pronouncing himself once again as “president of the republic” before fleeing the country for Somalia March 25 after Houthis seized the Aden airport.
Meanwhile on February 10 the U.S. embassy, which had evacuated non-essential staff in August 2013, closed down entirely, citing security issues in Sana’a. On February 12 al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula overran a government military base in southern Yemen. Five weeks later 100 U.S. troops evacuated a hitherto secret base near the city of al-Houta as al-Qaeda forces attacked. Not since the retreat of the last U.S. forces from South Vietnam in 1975, or the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, has U.S. imperialism met with such abject humiliation.
Now Washington must rely on Saudi Arabia and its anti-Shia, anti-Iran coalition to re-impose an acceptable level of stability in Yemen. Meanwhile Obama seeks rapprochement with Iran in part to stabilize Iraq, the current catastrophic condition of which is basically the result of U.S. crimes.
The original article from Counterpunch
US-Saudi Blitz in Yemen: Naked Aggression, Absolute Desperation
(Tony Cartalucci – NEO) – The “proxy war” model the US has been employing throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and even in parts of Asia appears to have failed yet again, this time in the Persian Gulf state of Yemen.
Overcoming the US-Saudi backed regime in Yemen, and a coalition of sectarian extremists including Al Qaeda and its rebrand, the “Islamic State,” pro-Iranian Yemeni Houthi militias have turned the tide against American “soft power” and has necessitated a more direct military intervention. While US military forces themselves are not involved allegedly, Saudi warplanes and a possible ground force are.
Though Saudi Arabia claims “10 countries” have joined its coalition to intervene in Yemen, like the US invasion and occupation of Iraq hid behind a “coalition,” it is overwhelmingly a Saudi operation with “coalition partners” added in a vain attempt to generate diplomatic legitimacy.
The New York Times, even in the title of its report, “Saudi Arabia Begins Air Assault in Yemen,” seems not to notice these “10” other countries. It reports:
Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday night that it had launched a military campaign in Yemen, the beginning of what a Saudi official said was an offensive to restore a Yemeni government that had collapsed after rebel forces took control of large swaths of the country.
The air campaign began as the internal conflict in Yemen showed signs of degenerating into a proxy war between regional powers. The Saudi announcement came during a rare news conference in Washington by Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s ambassador to the United States.
Proxy War Against Iran
Indeed, the conflict in Yemen is a proxy war. Not between Iran and Saudi Arabia per say, but between Iran and the United States, with the United States electing Saudi Arabia as its unfortunate stand-in.
Iran’s interest in Yemen serves as a direct result of the US-engineered “Arab Spring” and attempts to overturn the political order of North Africa and the Middle East to create a unified sectarian front against Iran for the purpose of a direct conflict with Tehran. The war raging in Syria is one part of this greater geopolitical conspiracy, aimed at overturning one of Iran’s most important regional allies, cutting the bridge between it and another important ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon.
And while Iran’s interest in Yemen is currently portrayed as yet another example of Iranian aggression, indicative of its inability to live in peace with its neighbors, US policymakers themselves have long ago already noted that Iran’s influence throughout the region, including backing armed groups, serves a solely defensive purpose, acknowledging the West and its regional allies’ attempts to encircle, subvert, and overturn Iran’s current political order.
The US-based RAND Corporation, which describes itself as “a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis,” produced a report in 2009 for the US Air Force titled, “Dangerous But Not Omnipotent : Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East,” examining the structure and posture of Iran’s military, including its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and weapons both present, and possible future, it seeks to secure its borders and interests with against external aggression.
The report admits that:
Iran’s strategy is largely defensive, but with some offensive elements. Iran’s strategy of protecting the regime against internal threats, deterring aggression, safeguarding the homeland if aggression occurs, and extending influence is in large part a defensive one that also serves some aggressive tendencies when coupled with expressions of Iranian regional aspirations. It is in part a response to U.S. policy pronouncements and posture in the region, especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Iranian leadership takes very seriously the threat of invasion given the open discussion in the United States of regime change, speeches defining Iran as part of the “axis of evil,” and efforts by U.S. forces to secure base access in states surrounding Iran.
Whatever imperative Saudi Arabia is attempting to cite in justifying its military aggression against Yemen, and whatever support the US is trying to give the Saudi regime rhetorically, diplomatically, or militarily, the legitimacy of this military operation crumbles before the words of the West’s own policymakers who admit Iran and its allies are simply reacting to a concerted campaign of encirclement, economic sanctions, covert military aggression, political subversion, and even terrorism aimed at establishing Western hegemony across the region at the expense of Iranian sovereignty.
Saudi Arabia’s Imperative Lacks Legitimacy
The unelected hereditary regime ruling over Saudi Arabia, a nation notorious for egregious human rights abuses, and a land utterly devoid of even a semblance of what is referred to as “human rights,” is now posing as arbiter of which government in neighboring Yemen is “legitimate” and which is not, to the extent of which it is prepared to use military force to restore the former over the latter.
The United States providing support for the Saudi regime is designed to lend legitimacy to what would otherwise be a difficult narrative to sell. However, the United States itself has suffered from an increasing deficit in its own legitimacy and moral authority.
Most ironic of all, US and Saudi-backed sectarian extremists, including Al Qaeda in Yemen, had served as proxy forces meant to keep Houthi militias in check by proxy so the need for a direct military intervention such as the one now unfolding would not be necessary. This means that Saudi Arabia and the US are intervening in Yemen only after the terrorists they were supporting were overwhelmed and the regime they were propping up collapsed.
In reality, Saudi Arabia’s and the United States’ rhetoric aside, a brutal regional regime meddled in Yemen and lost, and now the aspiring global hemegon sponsoring it from abroad has ordered it to intervene directly and clean up its mess.
Saudi Arabia’s Dangerous Gamble
The aerial assault on Yemen is meant to impress upon onlookers Saudi military might. A ground contingent might also attempt to quickly sweep in and panic Houthi fighters into folding. Barring a quick victory built on psychologically overwhelming Houthi fighters, Saudi Arabia risks enveloping itself in a conflict that could easily escape out from under the military machine the US has built for it.
It is too early to tell how the military operation will play out and how far the Saudis and their US sponsors will go to reassert themselves over Yemen. However, that the Houthis have outmatched combined US-Saudi proxy forces right on Riyadh’s doorstep indicates an operational capacity that may not only survive the current Saudi assault, but be strengthened by it.
Reports that Houthi fighters have employed captured Yemeni warplanes further bolsters this notion – revealing tactical, operational, and strategic sophistication that may well know how to weather whatever the Saudis have to throw at it, and come back stronger.
What may result is a conflict that spills over Yemen’s borders and into Saudi Arabia proper. Whatever dark secrets the Western media’s decades of self-censorship regarding the true sociopolitical nature of Saudi Arabia will become apparent when the people of the Arabian peninsula must choose to risk their lives fighting for a Western client regime, or take a piece of the peninsula for themselves.
Additionally, a transfer of resources and fighters arrayed under the flag of the so-called “Islamic State” and Al Qaeda from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula will further indicate that the US and its regional allies have been behind the chaos and atrocities carried out in the Levant for the past 4 years. Such revelations will only further undermine the moral imperative of the West and its regional allies, which in turn will further sabotage their efforts to rally support for an increasingly desperate battle they themselves conspired to start.
America’s Shrinking Legitimacy
It was just earlier this month when the United States reminded the world of Russia’s “invasion” of Crimea. Despite having destabilized Ukraine with a violent, armed insurrection in Kiev, for the purpose of expanding NATO deeper into Eastern Europe and further encircling Russia, the West insisted that Russia had and still has no mandate to intervene in any way in neighboring Ukraine. Ukraine’s affairs, the United States insists, are the Ukrainians’ to determine. Clearly, the US meant this only in as far as Ukrainians determined things in ways that suited US interests.
This is ever more evident now in Yemen, where the Yemeni people are not being allowed to determine their own affairs. Everything up to and including military invasion has been reserved specifically to ensure that the people of Yemen do not determine things for themselves, clearly, because it does not suit US interests.
Such naked hypocrisy will be duly noted by the global public and across diplomatic circles. The West’s inability to maintain a cohesive narrative is a growing sign of weakness. Shareholders in the global enterprise the West is engaged in may see such weakness as a cause to divest – or at the very least – a cause to diversify toward other enterprises. Such enterprises may include Russia and China’s mulipolar world. The vanishing of Western global hegemony will be done in destructive conflict waged in desperation and spite.
Today, that desperation and spite befalls Yemen.
Russians Warn Arab Officials on the New Warfare: Is this the Beginning of a New Bipolar World Order?
On May 23, 42 Arab military and security officials attending the third annual Moscow International Security Conference were briefed by a team of top Russian government officials on the growing danger of “color revolutions.” The uniform message presented by the Russian speakers was that the United States and NATO have adopted a new mode of warfare, focused on the use of irregular warfare forces, religious fanatics, and mercenaries, combined with the heavy use of information warfare. In a series of English language power-point graphs and maps, presenters gave a detailed chronology of the past decade, highlighting Western regime change operations in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Russian officials and several Belarus counterparts argued that the U.S. and Western allies have devised a new form of warfare which is cheaper than all former modes of large-scale conventional warfare, produces fewer casualties, but seeks to achieve the same regime change objectives. They argued that this new form of irregular warfare violates the Geneva conventions, draws civilian populations directly into conflicts, and violates other traditional rules of war. They also asserted that the efforts have frequently failed, leading to widespread instability and the global spread of terrorism. The Russian speakers argued that, while the US and other Western powers profess to oppose terrorism, the consequences of their “color revolutions” have frequently bolstered the very terrorist organizations they are simultaneously combating.
Russian speakers on the May 23 panel were among the leading military and diplomatic aides to President Vladimir Putin: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Nikolay Bordirzha, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff General Vladimir Zarudnitsky, and Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Bogdanov. Belarus Minister of Defense Yury Zhadobin was also a prominent speaker.
RIA Novosti quoted Foreign Minister Lavrov warning: “Regime change operations in sovereign states, various ‘color revolutions’ provoked by external forces, cause apparent damage to international stability. Attempts to impose homemade recipes for internal changes on other nations, without taking into account their own traditions and national characteristics, to engage in the ‘export of democracy,’ have a destructive impact on international relations and result in an increase of the number of hot spots on the world map.”
Dr. Anthony Cordesman, the American military analyst who holds the Burke Chair on Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, attended the Moscow conference and issued a 52-page report, based on his own notes with copies of many of the Russian power-point charts. He titled his report “A Russian Military View of a World Destabilized by the US and the West.” He said that American security officials must take careful note of the views expressed at the Moscow international conference because they inform Russian strategic moves, including a serious effort to re-establish strong ties to Arab regimes in the Middle East, starting with Egypt. He warned American strategists that the Russian assessment marks a serious change on the part of Moscow:
“The end result is a radically different reading of modern history, of US and European strategy, their use of force, and US and European goals and actions from any issued in the West and in prior Russian literature. Western experts can argue the degree to which this represents Russian anger over the West’s reaction to events in Ukraine, Russian efforts at persuading developing nations and Asia to back Russia in a reassertion of its strategic role in the world, propaganda to cloak the character Russian actions in the Ukraine and near abroad, an effort to justify Russian action in Syria, very real Russian concern over US and European actions that have destabilized key MENA and Central Asian states, and a host of other possible motives and intentions.
“What is critical is that the US and Europe listen to what Russian military leaders and strategists are saying. These are not Russian views the US and Europe can afford to ignore.”