It seems that the Middle East is always in a state of turmoil. As the new nation-states try to break free of the shadows of their colonial rule, they are cursed with failing repeatedly before they can form an independent state. In recent years, the world’s spotlight shone brightly over the terrible Syrian civil war, which was the largest proxy war in modern history. As of now, Syria is still stuck in a perpetual state of violence and carnage that has hundreds of thousands dead, and millions displaced. Despite claiming a majority of media headlines, the Syrian civil war is actually not the only humanitarian crisis currently taking place. There is another lesser-known civil war of similar magnitude taking place in the neighboring country, Yemen.
The Yemeni civil war began in March 2015 with Saudi Arabia launching military operations into the country in response to a revolution led by the Zaydi (an offshoot of Shia Islam) group known as the Houthis. The Saudi narrative justifying the war is that the Houthis are a barbaric terrorist group funded extensively by their archenemy, Iran. In order to curb Iran’s “extensive” terrorism support abroad, Saudi Arabia must make sure their influence does not extend beyond Yemen. However, Iran’s role in this war is greatly exaggerated, since Iran’s “support to the Houthis in Yemen is very small compared to that of Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon.” Also, most of the Houthis’ weapons are gathered from the “black market” and countries like Oman and Russia, “currently have more direct leverage over the Houthis than Iran does.”
The pretext of Iran funding the Houthis is also being used by the United States to justify its heavy involvement in the war. The United States is supplying Saudi Arabia with high-tech military weapons, which is enabling Saudi Arabia to continue their aggression with impunity. As Human Rights Watch aptly puts it, ever since June 2015 “the United States was helping the coalition with ‘intelligence support and intelligence sharing, targeting assistance, advisory support, and logistical support, to include aerial refueling with up to two tanker sorties a day.’” It is important to note, however, that this conflict did not emerge out of a vacuum. During the 1960s, a previous civil war broke out in Yemen, whose consequences still have a painful impact on the country. The war was between royalists of the former King of Yemen, Muhammad Al-Badr, who was unsurprisingly, backed by the Saudi regime; and rebels that were mostly concentrated in the Northern Region of Yemen. Headed by Abdullah al-Sallal, native of northern Yemen, and funded by the then president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the rebels sought to create their own independent nation in northern Yemen, named the “Yemen Arab Republic”. The war raged on for over eight years and resulted in 100,000-200,000 civilian casualties. The outcome resulted in a victory for the Yemeni Republic and the creation of it’s small nation in the north. Eventual peace talks would result in the reunification of North and South Yemen and the creation of the modern day Yemeni state. However, such peace would not last.
The 1960 civil war was eerily prophetic to the one that would break out fifty-three years later with Saudi Arabia again using any means necessary to tilt the outcome of the war to its strategic favor, and with callous disregard for human life. Since Saudi Arabia is, by no means, a country known for respecting laws regarding human rights, the United States’ unwavering support of the war can only enable them to carry out their objectives in the most ruthless and disproportionate way possible.
Moreover, the gross violation of human rights by the Saudi regime is confirmed by various human rights organizations around the world. For example, Amnesty International has been carefully monitoring this war ever since its inception and has bravely reported on-the-ground investigations in Yemen. Their various reports provide an horrifying insight into the unfolding situation as well as deliver a scathing indictment of those responsible for the unnecessary suffering. On their website they state: “according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 4,125 civilians, including more than 1,200 children, had been killed and more than 7,000 civilians wounded since the conflict began in March 2015.” Besides the terror inflicted onto the civilians of Yemen, they also face the brutality of famine. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that by October and nearly 21.2 million people, 80% of the population, relied on humanitarian assistance. Even before the war, Yemen already faced pressing levels of humanitarian needs due to “years of poverty, under-development, environmental decline, intermittent conflict, and weak rule of law.” Saudi coalition forces waged an unrelenting war on an impoverished nation already incapable of supporting its own people. This makes Yemen now home “to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” with at least seven million people on the brink of famine.
In addition to the hunger that besieges Yemen, diseases such as cholera are spreading rampantly throughout the country. According to Physicians for Human Rights, repeated strikes on water treatment plants and sanitation facilities earlier this year “has caused the largest cholera outbreak in the world, with 5,000 new infections every day”. The WHO also released another statement saying “the total number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen this year hit the half a million mark on Sunday, and nearly 2000 people have died”. Such suffering, however, is not entirely uncommon as the UN Human Rights council declared that “this catastrophe is entirely man-made.” The bombings has also led to appalling statistics such as at least 5,021 civilians killed since the start of the war with 8,588 injured, and three million people displaced from their homes. Things have gotten so bad that the humanitarian NGO, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has “lost ‘confidence in the Coalition’s ability to avoid such fatal attacks’” and withdrew its staff from hospitals in Yemen.
As previously mentioned, that the extent of the suffering and destruction in Yemen was not the product of the Saudi regime alone, but also that of the United States. The United States played a direct and essential role in the bloodletting of Yemen by not only providing extensive military assistance, but also conducting on the ground military operations. The United States, in its conduct, has displayed little regard of civilian safety and of the rules of war similar to the Saudi regime. This is confirmed by Human Rights Watch, who has been monitoring and investigating these bombings that have been directly carried out by the United States, and they concluded concluding that “in several of these cases the US also did not take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, as the laws of war require.” They also found that the United States also “used imprecise munitions in some attacks, including large bombs…that have a wide impact radius and cause casualties and destruction beyond their immediate strike location.” It is very important to note that under international law indiscriminate attacks or attacks that fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets are explicitly illegal and constitute a war crime.
These aforementioned strikes carried out by the United States occurred during the Obama administration. However, with Trump now in office there unfortunately does not seem to be any mitigation of existing US policy in Yemen. On January 29th, the village, Al-Ghayil, was the target of United States drone strike, with 25 civilians dead alongside a group of militants, including nine children under the age of 13 (the youngest one being eight months old). Despite Sean Spicer insisting that the mission was a “successful operation by all standards”, former United States ambassador to Yemen, Stephen Seche, retorted that the outcome “turned out to be as bad as one can imagine it being,” and Abdul Malik al Mekhlafi, the current Yemeni foreign minister, even stated that the deaths amounted to “extrajudicial killings.” The following table is an example of civilian casualties of the US-led January drone attack, with most of them being under the age of 13,and a further testament to the heinous nature of the United States involvement in the war.
As we have just seen, the war in Yemen has meant disaster for innocent civilians. It has drastically worsened the already awful situation in Yemen with a man made famine, cholera outbreak, and hellfire indiscriminately raining from above. Although Saudi Arabia is directly to blame for this situation, the United States is also guilty for enabling such a situation to exist. The partners in crime have been carrying out their little war in the corners of the Middle East with no repercussions and scant public outcry. Although anyone slightly familiar with Cold War history would be well aware this is not America’s first experiment in proxy war. United States’ foreign policy has often previously carried itself out in a similar fashion to that of Yemen. The results, as they usually are, have been devastating to the people of Yemen. These inexcusable actions carried out by the United States only provide a sore example of the ruthlessness of our foreign policy against the already humiliated citizens. We have seen the United States constantly fall into the trap of its own hubris whether that be in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen. The original War on Terror, which set out to eliminate global terrorism, has only created more of it; each knee-jerk response is a terrible stumble into the wrong direction. If the United States wishes to achieve its goal of eliminating global terrorism, then it must stop partaking in terrorism of its own. America’s continuation of military intervention in the Arabian quagmire will serve no other purpose than to promulgate the Arab’s hatred of the West and continue the suffering and injustices facing the Arabs as they attempt to shake off the chains of the colonial rule.