Almost three years have passed since Saudi Arabia announced it was intervening militarily, with its allies, in Yemen, to remove the Houthis (officially called Ansar Allah) from power after they had taken over the capital. Western analysts saw it as a bold move from recently-empowered (deputy) crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), weapons manufacturers and their political representatives were delighted. But what had been predicted as a swift military operation has turned into a humiliating stalemate. Unable to impose its will by force, Saudi Arabia and its bold prince have resorted to war crimes and collective punishment, imposing a humanitarian catastrophe on the Yemeni people.
by Ricardo Vaz
Part 3 - War, what is it good for?
Articles no longer wonder what this war is even about, and why it continues. Impunity on the global stage usually comes hand in hand with indifference in the media. For one, beyond the lucrative weapons dealing, it is a matter of letting the Saudis do what they want. With trillions of dollars looming large in the near future with major privatisation plans in motion, including of Saudi Aramco, letting millions of unworthy victims die in Yemen is a small price to pay. The Saudi crown prince can throw a tantrum, launch a deadly war and kill millions in the process and get away with it because he is sitting on a giant pile of money.
The “Iran is behind it” angle is not very convincing for anyone who can look at a map. Given that the Saudis and local allies control the gulf of Aden, Iranian ships laden with weapons cannot exactly waltz all the way to northern Yemen and Sanaa. The same applies to the airspace, which is entirely controlled by the Saudis. So while Iran may have managed to send some support and advisors, it is laughable to describe the Houthis as Iranian-controlled or even Iranian-backed. But as is often the case, bogeymen tend to have fantastical properties.
In the beginning of the war we often heard that the war was about restoring Yemen’s legitimate, democratically-elected government. Dozens of journalists wrote that the backward kingdom of Saudi Arabia was launching a war to restore democracy without sensing that something was off. The articles usually mentioned that Yemen was emerging from decades of dictatorship under Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh had ruled Yemen with an iron fist, and had been a useful ally both for Saudi Arabia and the US, which has been drone-bombing everything in the vicinity of a cellphone that once belonged to an alleged terror suspect.
When massive protests starting in 2011 forced Saleh out, the US and the Saudis scrambled to salvage the situation. In the end they managed to get all parties, including the Houthis, to agree to a political transition. This included an election in which Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi ran as the only candidate. So he is the legitimate president to be restored, but the media never mention that he had been vice-dictator for 20 years. One election with no other candidates and voilà, you get all the stamps you need from the western press.
What the articles also forget to mention is that Hadi’s term was supposed to finish in late 2014, and it was only after he did not deliver on political and economic measures that the Houthis seized power. Now, after almost three years of a Saudi war imposing death and misery on the Yemeni people on his behalf, who can refer to Hadi as being internationally recognised? What is that recognition even worth? And to add insult to injury, it seems Hadi is now allegedly under house arrest.
The Saudis latest gamble involved getting their former friend Saleh to turn against the Houthis. Given their long history of oppression at the hands of Saleh and the fact that there had been previous armed uprisings, this alliance was always going to be fragile. Saleh thought there was an opening, and Saudi air cover, for him to make a move and restore normal subservience to the northern neighbour. But the move backfired, Saleh ended up killed and, according to reports, the Houthis regained full control of the capital. Otherwise the media rehabilitation of Saleh as the man who restored Yemeni democracy would be in full-swing by now.
In summary, an entitled royal with a short temper and a large arsenal plunged himself into an endless war because Saudi Arabia, with its very fragile legitimacy, cannot tolerate an insubordinate neighbour. But it takes more than weapons, and the Saudis have lots of them, to subjugate a people. Only those who are too short-sighted or too eager to push the Iran angle cannot see that not only are the Houthis a Yemeni movement with ample support on the ground, they have also proven themselves a mighty opponent on their home turf.
The war has turned into a conflict that the Saudis cannot win, but still there is no end in sight. The Saudis are willing to let millions die because they can do so with impunity. And their western sponsors are also happy to let this genocide carry on. Because although it might cause some PR problems, it is, both in the short and long run, great for business, and at the end of the day that is what western foreign policy has always been about.