Nearly two weeks of unrelenting air strikes on Yemen by a US-backed Saudi foreign coalition is turning the already impoverished Arab Peninsula country into a humanitarian disaster. The imposed suffering seems to be part of a policy to coerce the Yemenis into accepting a US-endorsed talks process aimed at rehabilitating the ousted Washington and Saudi-backed regime of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Saudi Arabia, the main protagonist in the 10-country bombing coalition striking Yemen, has vowed to continue the aerial attacks and has refused Russia’s calls for a humanitarian ceasefire. Russia tabled a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council for a «humanitarian pause» in the aerial bombardment to allow aid agencies access. But the UNSC said it needs «time to consider» the Russian proposal. It is not clear whether the United States, the main foreign backer of the Saudi military coalition, will block the resolution.
This is in spite of reliable reports that over 500 people, including at least 90 children, have been killed in the violence that erupted when Saudi-led fighter jets began pounding Yemen on March 26 with nighty raids. Over the weekend, three people were killed in Saudi air strikes on a humanitarian aid convoy in the southern city of Taizz.
With Yemen now under an air and naval blockade, aid agencies are reporting critical shortages of food, water, medical supplies and fuel for the civilian population. Cities, including the capital Sanaa, are cut off from electricity and other basic necessities in what can only be described as a deliberate siege designed to maximise suffering.
The International Red Cross has openly blamed the Saudi-led bombing coalition for hampering access to Yemen. Hospitals are spilling over with the wounded and there are reports of corpses strewn on streets in the southern port city of Aden and other towns in surrounding provinces. Stray dogs are feeding off charred remains, according to eyewitnesses.
«We are living through pure horror,» was how one man described the aftermath of nightly aerial bombardments.
The country of 24 million was already classed as the poorest Arab state even before the aerial onslaught started nearly two weeks ago. The Saudi-dominated Arab League has endorsed the military attacks by a coalition of countries that include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Persian Gulf monarchies. American refuelling tankers are reportedly assisting the Arab warplanes, and the White House has admitted it is also providing intelligence and logistics to coordinate attacks. Meanwhile, the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has only issued tepid calls for peace talks, but has refrained from making any condemnation of the air strikes, which critics have noted amount to flagrant aggression and violation of Yemen’s sovereignty.
Angry Yemeni citizens, who have come out on the streets in their tens of thousands to protest despite the danger of ordnance dropped from the sky, direct their fury at Saudi Arabia and the United States. They say that the air strikes are targeting civilians and social infrastructure to destroy the country.
Last week saw over 40 killed when a refugee camp in northern Yemen was hit. The victims included women and children who had been living in the Morzaq camp in Hajjah province since 2009. Tragically, they had ended up in the refugee centre after Saudi troops invaded the country five years ago, leading to a brief but bloody war with the Houthi rebels back then.
In another air strike last week on the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, around 35 night-shift workers at a dairy factory were killed in what was believed to be another air strike. The extensive damage and incinerated condition of the bodies evidenced that it was an air strike, and not the result of an anti-aircraft missile from rebels gone astray, as some Saudi reports claimed.
In yet another deadly air raid, at least 10 workers were killed when their cement factory was hit in Lahj province, just north of Aden. The Yemen Times quoted the plant owner as saying: «Some of the workers in the factory heard aircrafts in the sky seconds before the bombings. The severe damage and the completely burned bodies of the victims indicates that it was an air strike».
The aerial bombardment carried out by the US-backed coalition is said to have the objective of defeating the Houthi rebels and reinstating the exiled government of deposed president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. At the Arab League summit in Egypt last week, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said the aerial bombardment will continue «until it achieves its goal for the Yemeni people to enjoy security.»
The Saudi monarch’s hollow words have only infuriated ordinary Yemenis even more. «We are all Houthis now,» said one protester to media. «Yemen is our home and no-one will break into our home.»
Saudi Arabia and its American and Arab allies claim that the Shia Houthis are backed by Shia Iran. Western news media routinely prefix reference to the Houthis with the «Iranian-backed» epithet. This claim is also asserted by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish president Recep Tayyep Erdogan. However, there is no evidence to support this speculation. And both Iran and the Houthis have strongly denied any military connection.
Besides, the Houthis are not the only section of Yemen’s population that have risen up to overthrow the erstwhile Saudi and American-backed president Mansour Hadi. While the Saudis and their allies would like to portray the Yemeni upheaval as a narrow sectarian cause led by Shia Houthis, the reality is that the protests against Hadi galvanised a broad swathe of the Yemeni working class. Those protests culminated in the take-over of government institutions earlier this year and the discredited president fleeing the country to seek sanctuary in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago. Saudi Arabia, the US and other members of the bombing coalition claim that they are acting in response to requests from the «legitimate government of Yemen». But Hadi was kicked out because he reneged for three years on promised transition to democracy, as demanded by the Yemeni population.
In truth, the Yemeni struggle is not one of Shia versus Sunni, or Iran versus Saudi Arabia. Rather it is one of a pro-democracy movement versus the US-Saudi old order of a repressive regime that has quashed the aspirations of the Yemeni people for decades.
Some analysts reckon that the bombing campaign on Yemen is to soften up the armed opposition within the country ahead of a land invasion. Saudi and Egyptian warships joined in the bombardment in recent days with shelling of the southern coastal province of Abyan, east of Aden. Up to 400 soldiers belonging to the Yemeni armed forces, who have formed an alliance with the Houthis, are believed to have been killed in the naval strikes, according to the Yemen Times.
There are also reports of fierce gun battles and artillery exchanges on the northern Yemeni border between Saudi troops and Houthi rebels. Some 150,000 Saudi troops have been mobilised on the border since last week when the air raids started. Egyptian and Saudi warships off the southern coast are also reported to have hundreds of marines at the ready for an amphibious assault.
Nevertheless, there are doubts that the Saudis or the Egyptians would embark on a risky land invasion that could turn into a costly quagmire. Both countries have incurred heavy losses in previous land wars inside Yemen. In 2009, the Saudis lost at least 200 infantry during a failed invasion which turned into a rout by Houthi fighters.
The Saudi-led air strikes are more likely being deployed as a campaign of terror to force the Yemeni rebels into engaging in political talks with the ousted American and Saudi-backed regime of exiled president Mansour Hadi.
While backing the Saudi military coalition, both Washington and London have at the same time urged «all sides» to engage in «political negotiations».
Reuters reported a US official who said «the Saudis had shown little appetite for a ground invasion if it can be avoided.» «The objective here is to get to a point where the Houthis halt their destabilising actions [sic] and come back to the table,» said the unnamed American official.
Such talks would be futile from the point of view of Yemen’s pro-democracy movement. Engagement with the Hadi regime has already proven useless over the past three years. However, renewed talks would be a way for Washington and Riyadh to reinstall the discredited Hadi regime through forcing a «compromise» with the Houthi-led uprising.
The Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, coordinated by Washington, is thus serving as a hammer to coerce the Yemenis towards the negotiation table. That table will then be the anvil upon which a terrorised population can be bent into political shape to suit American and Saudi objectives. Those objectives are to ensure that Yemen remains an enfeebled state under the tutelage of foreign domination.
With the Saudis covertly supporting Al Qaeda extremists in eastern Yemen and together with a reinstalled puppet regime, Yemen would thus be engineered back to failed-state conditions whereby democracy and national unity are thwarted. The last thing that the Americans and the Saudis want is a unified, democratic Yemen that serves the interests of its people, instead of the interests of foreign powers.
Worse still, would be a sovereign Yemen that adopts friendly relations with Iran and which is strongly critical of regional meddling by Washington, Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
That outcome is the essence of nightmares for Washington and its despotic clients in the Middle East. Hence, Yemen must be bombed and terrorised into «crying Uncle Sam» and accepting its fate of being a failed state under Washington’s dubious patronage.
But the courage of the Yemeni people may yet confound that cynical plan.