Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is dead. Having betrayed his makeshift Houthi allies on 2 December, he died at their hands on December 4. Saleh had announced he was abandoning his Houthi allies to join forces with their Saudi enemies. This was the type of double-crossing manoeuvre which had previously secured Saleh a 34 year reign as President. It was the ability to stay one step ahead of his rivals that had helped him secure power for such a long time. In recent years this luck deserted him, leading to his eventual demise.
Saleh initially fell as President as an Arab Spring victim. He was replaced in 2012 by Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. In response Saleh joined forces with his former Houthi enemies. When this marriage of convenience fell, divorce proved messy for Saleh.
“Mr Saleh brought with him the backing of much of the country’s military, helping the Houthis to victory in Sanaa in 2015.
“Their takeover sent President Hadi fleeing to Riyadh, sparking a massive military intervention from Saudi Arabia, Iran’s great regional adversary.
“With Mr Saleh and his fighters on their side, however, the intervention quickly became a bloody stalemate, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians, ensnaring Riyadh in a conflict it could not see a way out of and badly damaging its international reputation.
“Flipping Mr Saleh to its side was one way Saudi Arabia had hoped to end the conflict without giving way to Iran. Now Mr Saleh is dead, Riyadh’s bet has gone sour. It has lost one of the wiliest, best-connected players in the country, one of the few whose backing alone has proved able to turn the course of a conflict” (Bel Trew, ‘Houthi rebels fire missile at nuclear plant in UAE’, The Times, 4 December 2017).
Saleh’s failed manoeuvre has not only been his own undoing, but has worsened an already dire situation for the people of Yemen. It is a country on the brink of starvation, cholera is rife. After Saleh deserted the Houthis and joined the Saudis, massive fighting broke out in the capital Sana’a. A dire situation has become much worse.
“Residents of Sana’a, cowering in their homes, reported hearing artillery and gunfire as fighting between Houthis and Saleh’s forces, which began on Wednesday, became ferocious yesterday.
“Roads into the city were blocked as both groups called for reinforcements. Millions of terrified civilians were trapped in the city.
“According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, dozens were killed and hundreds injured. Aid groups called for unfettered access to provide relief for civilians.
“Save the Children reported that thousands of patients in a Sana’a children’s hospital had been left unattended after the doctors treating them were forced to flee.
“The Iranian-backed Houthis have been fighting with Saleh against the Saudi-led coalition for control of the country since 2015, when the latter intervened in the civil war on the side of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
“The UN says that more than 8,670 people have been killed since then, and nearly 50,000 injured” (Louise Callaghan, ‘Yemen leader turns on allies’, The Times, 3 December 2017).
As the fighting intensified, the Houthi forces fired a cruise missile at United Arab Emirates $20 billion al-Barakah nuclear plant in Abu Dhabi. The Houthis have continually threatened to hit the key Saudi ally in Abu Dhabi. In September they claimed to have test-fired a missile capable of hitting the UAE.
The UAE is clearly paying the price for siding with the Saudis in attacking Yemen.
On December 1 the Houthis also launched a missile at Saudi Arabia.
“It came a month after Saudi Arabia said that it had intercepted a missile over Riyadh, about 430 miles north of the border. Last year Saudi Arabia shot down a similar missile 40 miles from Mecca, the site of Islam’s holiest shrine…
“The Houthis appeared to threaten further missile attacks, warning Saudi Arabia and its allies that they would ‘pay a heavy price in their own capitals’ for Mr Saleh’s “great treason.
“António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, yesterday urged the warring parties in Yemen to stop all ground and air assaults and called for a resumption of all commercial imports.
“The Saudi-led air, sea and land blockade on the country, plus sieges by the Houthi rebels on pro-government areas, has resulted in 20 million people having to rely on aid to survive. The conflict has also caused the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded and fears of a famine affecting seven million people” (Bel Trew, op.cit.).
On 19 December the Saudis intercepted a Volcano 2-H ballistic missile. The missile was on course to strike the al-Yamma royal palace in Riyadh. Prominent Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi warned: "Our long hand will reach other places, God willing” (Josie Ensor, ‘Saudi “intercepts Yemen rebel missile over Riyadh”’, The Telegraph, 19 December 2017).
The Houthis adhere to the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, with Shiites making up some 30% of Yemen’s population. But with Yemen’s majority Sunni population, Saudi Arabia sees Yemen as well within its sphere of influence as a regional power. In this endeavour they do the work of their puppet masters, the US imperialists. The US have their own history of drone attacks on Yemen. Such attacks by the US and Saudis only strengthen support for the Houthis, whose anti-imperialist stance gives expression to a people trampled upon by imperialism.
“Whilst couched in terms of a struggle against al-Qaeda and the fraudulent ‘war on terror’, the real aim of the US in Yemen is to secure control of the strategically critical Bab al-Mandab Strait. Connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, the strait facilitates the constant passage of massive commercial flows, including major sections of the world trade in grain and three million barrels of oil per day, giving Yemen a strategic significance well beyond its small size and relative lack of natural resources. As the Bab al-Mandab Strait also controls access to the Suez Canal, whoever controls the Yemeni government potentially has a chokehold on a vital part of the global economy.
“Directly across the strait lies the tiny state of Djibouti, where the US Africa Command (Africom) maintains its largest military facility in Africa, Camp Lemonnier. The base serves as a central hub for US drone strikes and covert operations across the whole of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. France also maintains major military bases in Djibouti (Lalkar: March/April 2015).
Since the death of Saleh, fighting has intensified in Yemen. Further Saudi air strikes have been unleashed on major civilian populations. In one attack on Saturday 16 December, eight women and two girls leaving a wedding in the east of Sana’a were killed by the Saudis. Ansar Allah is the Houthis’ political wing, whose spokesperson Mohammad Abdel Salam called the strike a massacre. He also informed that the Saudis had carried out a further "three bloody massacres in [the towns of] Taiz, Saada and Hodeidah, in which 70 people were killed (Al Jazeera, 17 December 2017).
Potentially even more devastating than the the air strikes has been the Saudi move to close ports, preventing humanitarian aid reaching the country. Mark Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said in November that as a result Yemen will suffer the "largest famine the world has seen for many decades.
“Three years into a brutal conflict, Yemen depends on imports – amounting to up to 90 per cent of its daily needs – and millions in the country are being kept alive by humanitarian aid.
“The fighting has also all but collapsed the country’s health, and water and sanitation systems. Combined with the lack of food, millions of lives – including those of children – will be lost as their bodies will simply not have the strength to fight off disease.
“’What kills people in famine is infections […] because their bodies have consumed themselves, reducing totally the ability to fight off things which a healthy person can’, added Mr. Lowcock” (United Nations News Centre: 9 November 2017).
Indeed things have deteriorated to such an extent that even the British government is beginning to speak out against its key arms trading partner. Penny Mordaunt, Secretary of State for International Development has met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to insist that the ports are opened. She told the Telegraph:
“It is very clear that if you are using starvation as a weapon you are in breach of international humanitarian law. And what I have seen on my visit is that what is being held up is aid” (see Josie Ensor and Roland Oliphant, ‘Saudi Arabia says it will allow food and fuel shipments into Yemen after UK criticism, The Telegraph, 20 December 2017).
“Unless this gets through we think that about 150,000 children may perish in the next few months. Already about 400,000 are severely malnourished and the death rate is going to increase dramatically if we don’t get food, but also critically fuel, in as well (RT: 18 December 2017).”
The Saudi response will indicate how much, if any, influence Britain has over its medieval ally. Of course Britain is hardly in any position to speak. In the first half of 2017 alone, Britain sold £1.1 billion of military hardware to Saudi Arabia, knowing full well that Saudi Arabia would use the weaponry and against whom it would be used . The Conservative government is literally arming the Saudis in this conflict. So whilst "using starvation as a weapon" is too much for our government, using conventional weapons purchased from us is quite agreeable.