Ye­men: the stu­pid­est war

Jamaica Gleaner - - SATURDAY TALK - Gwynne Dyer is a syn­di­cated jour­nal­ist. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

HEY HIT ev­ery­thing – hos­pi­tals, or­phan­ages, schools,” Hisham alOmeisy told The Guardian news­pa­per six months ago. “You live in con­stant fear that your kids’ school could be the next tar­get.”

No, he’s not talk­ing about the wicked Rus­sians bomb­ing the eastern side of Aleppo in Syria, which is stir­ring up so much syn­thetic in­dig­na­tion in Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don these days. He was talk­ing about the air force of Saudi Ara­bia, that great friend of the West, bomb­ing his friends and neigh­bours in Sana’a, the cap­i­tal of Ye­men.

The Saudi Ara­bian bomb­ing cam­paign in Ye­men is now 18 months old and is re­spon­si­ble for the great ma­jor­ity of the es­ti­mated 5,000 civil­ian fa­tal ca­su­al­ties in that time. The Saudi au­thor­i­ties swear that it wasn’t them ev­ery time there is an es­pe­cially high death toll, but they are the only side in the con­flict that has air­craft.

A case in point is last Sun­day’s strike on the Great Hall in Sana’a, a very large and dis­tinc­tive build­ing of no mil­i­tary im­por­tance what­ever. Last Sun­day, it was crowded with hun­dreds of peo­ple at­tend­ing the funeral of Ali al-Raw­is­han, the father of the cur­rent in­te­rior min­is­ter, Galal al-Raw­is­han.

The younger al-Raw­is­han is the in­te­rior min­is­ter in the gov­ern­ment that sits in the cap­i­tal, which is sup­ported by ‘rebel’ Houthi tribes­men from the north of Ye­men and by the part of the army that still backs the former pres­i­dent, Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh. His father’s funeral was, there­fore, at­tended by many se­nior Houthi of­fi­cials and sup­port­ers of the former pres­i­dent, as well as large num­bers of other peo­ple.

By the sheer­est co­in­ci­dence, we are asked to be­lieve an air strike ac­ci­den­tally hit the Great Hall at just the right time on just the right day to kill 150 peo­ple and wound 525, among whom there would prob­a­bly have been a dozen or so ‘rebel’ gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

This war is re­ally about Saudi Ara­bia’s abil­ity to con­trol Ye­men’s gov­ern­ment. The two Fire and smoke rise af­ter a Saudi-led air strike hit a site be­lieved to be one of the largest weapons de­pots on the out­skirts of Ye­men’s cap­i­tal, Sanaa, on Fri­day. neigh­bours have about the same pop­u­la­tion, but Saudi Ara­bia is 30 times richer, so that should be easy.

Ye­men’s long-rul­ing dic­ta­tor, Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh, was hos­tile to Saudi Ara­bia, so the lat­ter took ad­van­tage of pop­u­lar protests against him in 2011-12 (part of the Arab Spring) to en­gi­neer his re­place­ment by a Saudi pup­pet, Abd Rab­buh Man­sour Hadi.

COALI­TION OF STATES

Saleh then made an al­liance with his former en­e­mies, the Houthi tribes of north­ern Ye­men, and struck back. When the rebel forces seized Sana’a in late 2014 and even­tu­ally drove Hadi out of the coun­try, Saudi Ara­bia put to­gether a ‘coali­tion’ of con­ser­va­tive Arab states and launched the cur­rent mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion to put Hadi back in power.

The other mo­tive be­hind this fool­ish war is the Saudi be­lief (or at least claim) that Iran, its great ri­val in the Gulf, is the se­cret power be­hind the rebel forces in Ye­men. No doubt Iran does sym­pa­thise with the Ye­meni rebels, since they are mostly fel­low Shi’as, but for all

the talk of Iran-al­lied Houthis, faith­fully re­peated in Western me­dia, there is no ev­i­dence that Iran has given them ei­ther mil­i­tary or fi­nan­cial aid.

So, then, three con­clu­sions. First, the Saudi-led coali­tion will not get its way in Ye­men if it re­mains un­will­ing to put large num­bers of troops on the ground – and it might not win even if it did. Sec­ond, the re­lent­less bomb­ing of civil­ians is largely be­cause of the coali­tion’s frus­tra­tion at the fail­ure of its po­lit­i­cal strat­egy (al­though the sheer lack of use­ful mil­i­tary tar­gets also plays a part).

And third, this is the stu­pid­est of all the wars now be­ing fought across the Mid­dle East. Who runs Ye­men is not a mat­ter of vi­tal strate­gic im­por­tance to Saudi Ara­bia, and the Saudi ob­ses­sion with the Ira­nian ‘threat’ is ab­surd.

Does the Wash­ing­ton for­eign­pol­icy Es­tab­lish­ment fi­nally un­der­stand all this? Only on Mon­days, Wed­nes­days, and Fri­days. Old habits die hard, and it’s all too easy to con­demn Rus­sian air strikes in Syria while con­don­ing sim­i­lar Saudi air strikes in Ye­men.

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