Saudi Arabia ratchets up involvement in the Yemen Crisis

Destroyed_house_in_the_south_of_Sanaa_12-6-2015-3

Damage caused by Saudi airstrikes to a house in Sana’a

 

Saudi Arabia is gearing up for a massive attack on Yemen. Or so it would seem.

A source close to the Next Century Foundation has informed us that Saudi officials asked for towns on the Saudi-Yemeni border to be evacuated last week, meaning there is possibility for further Saudi intervention in the war-torn country.

Sources in the Saudi armed forces indicate that the Saudi Crown Prince issued a letter to the Saudi High Command (the NCF has seen the letter in question) instructing them to evacuate all villages on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen of their entire population.

Subsequent reports from other NCF sources have indicated that Saudi ground forces are engaged in action, crossing the border into Yemen in the North. There is nothing unusual in this of itself, however this time perhaps we are about to see a more significant action rather than a mere skirmish. It is notable that the Kuwaitis have put a deadline on the peace negotiations between the warring parties (i.e. the Saudis and the Houthis) currently taking place in Kuwait. Presumably this is at the behest of the Saudis who wish to bring peace talks to an end and ramp up their attack on Yemen.

Yemen has been engaged in a civil war since March of 2015. The conflict began between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and a group known as the Houthis, a Zaydi Shia-led movement loyal to former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis, or Ansar Allah (“supporters of God”), were founded by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. They are seen in the West as a pro-Iranian group, and therefore the conflict is perceived as also being between Shiite Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is currently leading an international coalition against the Houthis.

The US and UK are part of the coalition with Saudi Arabia, but with different motives. While the Saudis are concerned mainly with their own influence in the region, the US and UK are concerned with combating Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This group is considered the most dangerous Al Qaeda affiliate, and AQAP has taken control of entire towns and villages in the south and east of Yemen.

The Saudis have intervened in Yemen through extensive bombing campaigns. Saudi-backed government forces successfully recaptured Aden from the Houthis, who seized the presidential palace and named a Revolutionary Committee to take over the powers of the president after Hadi resigned in January 2015. Because of Saudi involvement, President Hadi was able to return in September 2015.

Saudi involvement in Yemen has gone further than reinstatement of the president, however. News of the Saudi evacuation of border towns comes at the same time as the UK government admits it was wrong in saying that Saudi Arabia has not targeted civilians or committed war crimes. In its campaign against the Houthis, Saudi Arabia has blown up hospitals, schools, and weddings. The UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has said that these appear to be war crimes. The UK has been a supporter of Saudi Arabia, supplying billions in weapons, but is hesitant to take responsibility; the admission that Saudi Arabia may have in fact committed war crimes came on the final day of parliament before the summer recess.

Today, the most pressing issue in Yemen is the humanitarian crisis. The people of Yemen are starving. Twenty million Yemenis are in desperate need of food, water, and medical care; this is nearly 80% of the population. The Saudi-led naval blockade is exacerbating the issue by preventing goods from being imported. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has received significantly less media attention in the west than the refugee or Syrian crises, as the Saudi blockade is supported by the UK and US.

A solution in Yemen will not be found until Saudi Arabia changes its role in the country. The Saudis are afraid of losing land, and they see Iran as a security threat although it has no real presence in Yemen today. However, the Saudi view of the Houthis as Iranian-backed has become a self-fulfilling prophecy; if the Saudis offered to allow support to go to the population in the Houthi controlled areas they would easily reduce any Iranian influence, but denying them support only pushes the Houthis towards Iran.

The alleged evacuation of the border towns is evidence that the Saudis have not yet accepted a changed role in Yemen, but are continuing with their violent campaign. Retired Saudi colonel, political strategist and commentator Ibrahim al Marie showed that the war is more about Saudi influence than anything else when he stated that while the war is expensive, “If we stop it without getting Sana’a and disarming the Houthis, it will be a historical and military catastrophe.” He continues that “It would be a problem for the confidence between the government and the people, and the decision makers in the kingdom know this very well.”

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