Sana’a (GPA) – For nearly five years, Saudi Arabia has killed or injured roughly 100,000 Yemeni civilians through their blockade and military invasion. But where is Yemen and why is Saudi Arabia committing these war crimes?
The Saudi campaign against Yemen has destroyed nearly all civilian infrastructure including schools, airports, seaports, water plants, factories, roads, and much more. Dozens of airstrikes rain down on Yemen every day often targeting homes. The United States provides weapons, fuel for planes, training for Saudi-backed mercenaries, and intelligence support for selecting airstrike targets. But where is Yemen and why is this happening?
Where Is Yemen?
Yemen sits at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula — it’s one of Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbors. Saudi Arabia straddles Yemen’s northern border and Oman lies to Yemen’s east. Yemen has over 1,000 miles of coastline. Its southern coast provides access to the Gulf of Aden while the western coastline provides strategic access to the Red Sea.
Where is Yemen? A very strategic location for global capital.
Within the Red Sea — not far from Yemen’s west coast — lies the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. 61% of the world’s oil supply and other crucial products pass through this chokepoint every single day: nearly 60 million barrels. Two crucial islands in the Bab al-Mandeb are technically Yemeni territory. Whoever controls these waterways controls a large chunk of world capital.
Using the war as a springboard, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have effectively occupied these islands.
Socotra, a UNESCO world heritage site, is also under Emirati occupation. It’s said that the United States also has a naval base here and airstrip. Socotra is a valuable location for monitoring the Arabian Sea and the Horn of Africa.
Why is There a War in Yemen?
Saudi Arabia launched its war against Yemen in March 2015 with full support from the United States. Like many tumultuous places in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and the United States attempted to exploit protests during the so-called Arab Spring.
However, things didn’t quite work out as planned.
Yemen’s late president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, ruled Northern Yemen since the 1970s and was a key figure in Yemen’s reunification after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. When 2011 protests increased calling for his removal and reforms, imperialists in Washington and their allies in Riyadh took it upon themselves to exploit a weak spot in Yemen’s political scene.
What led to the genocidal war in Yemen we see today?
In 2012, Saleh and the then Vice President Abdu-Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi forged a backroom deal in Riyadh to establish a transition of power. Saleh would hand power to Hadi in exchange for immunity from charges such as killing protestors. This agreement is known as the Gulf Initiative.
Shortly later, Hadi announced a snap election which Riyadh orchestrated to ensure his victory. Some of Yemen’s largest opposition groups such as Ansarullah (the Houthis) and the Southern Movement (secessionists) called for boycotts. The Yemeni people never accepted Hadi as their president so protests and clashes continued. Their grievances included corruption, high fuel prices, and foreign meddling.
To this day, most of the Yemeni people consider Hadi a puppet for Saudi Arabia and western interests. It doesn’t help that Hadi currently lives in Riyadh and is often banned from entering his own country. Despite this, western media and international organizations like the UN call Hadi Yemen’s “internationally recognized” president.
Clashes and Protests in Yemen Reach a Breaking Point
After the Gulf Initiative, protests and clashes continued for roughly four years before reaching a breaking point.
In September of 2014, Ansarullah gradually took control of key government buildings throughout Yemen’s capital of Sana’a. Hadi eventually resigned under the pressure and fled to the southern city of Aden where he attempted to establish an improvised capital. However once again, Hadi failed to receive public support and again fled to Riyadh where he now lives.
Yemenis in the northern provinces call this event “the September 21st revolution.” After gaining control of Sana’a, Ansarullah entered an alliance with the former president Saleh — a leader who previously waged six wars against them.
This shaky alliance of convenience lasted until December of 2017 when Saleh sold the Yemeni people out — again — to the Saudi coalition. Saleh died while trying to flee and Ansarullah now fully controls the capital.
In Yemen’s southern provinces, the UAE supports secessionist politicians under a political umbrella called the Southern Movement. This creates a sore spot for tensions between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi: They’re both technically members of the Saudi-led coalition against Ansarullah, but they support rival political parties in the south. The Southern Movement tends to enjoy more popular support than the Saudi-backed president’s cabinet and ground clashes between these rivals are commonplace.
The U.S.-Backed Saudi War Against Yemen
In March of 2015, Saudi Arabia launched their war against Yemen. Their goal? Force the Yemeni people to accept Hadi as their leader.
Nearly the entire world cosigned this war from its inception. Some nations send fighters, others send military equipment, and others provide intelligence support or training.
The Saudi-led coalition against Yemen includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, Somalia, France, Eritrea, Djibouti, South Korea, Canada, Turkey, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The United States and other western countries provide the bulk of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ weapons for this war including internationally banned cluster bombs. Sudan sends thousands and thousands of fighters to die in Yemen. The country’s central bank in Khartoum received over $2 billion from Saudi Arabia and Qatar for their efforts. (Qatar dropped out of the war after the Saudi-Qatar rift in June of 2017.)
Most of the fighters in Yemen are foreign mercenaries from Sudan, Australia, and South America. The United Arab Emirates notoriously employs Blackwater contract mercenaries to kill Yemenis fighting the invasion of their country. The United States also has troops on the ground training Saudi-led coalition fighters and manning airstrike command centers.
Yemen: Who is Fighting Who? Who Controls What?
Although the main concept of the war against Yemen is fairly simple, a few main groups on the ground control territory. The media tends to gloss over these facts to justify or sweep Saudi and American war crimes under the rug.
Who is fighting who and who controls what?
- Ansarullah. Known throughout western media simply as “the Houthis,” Ansarullah is an anti-imperialist liberation movement. Accusations of receiving support from Iran are false western propaganda to discredit their cause and justify the war. Ansarullah controls most of Yemen’s northern provinces as well as over 100 miles beyond the Saudi border. They expanded their war in three Saudi provinces in retaliation for the genocidal airstrike campaign.
- The Southern Movement. This secessionist movement wants to split Yemen into North and South again. Leaders have strong ties to the United Arab Emirates. Although aligned with Hadi on paper, Southern Movement militias routinely clash with Saudi-backed forces. This group is a major player in Yemen’s southern provinces.
- Al-Islah. This is Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood offshoot with strong ties to Saudi Arabia. This creates a sore spot between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. As a result, Riyadh often bombs al-Islah fighters. Their alliance with the Saudi coalition depends on the day or weather.
- Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda grew stronger under Saleh’s rule and even more so under Hadi as former U.S. President Barack Obama expanded drone strikes. This terrorist group fights alongside Saudi-backed mercenaries against Ansarullah.
- ISIS. ISIS has gradually expanded its presence in Yemen during the war. Yemen, however, is traditionally al-Qaeda turf as far as terror groups go.
Since Ansarullah is the only genuine enemy of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen, their influence is virtually non-existent in territory under Ansarullah’s control.
Daily War Crimes, Genocidal Behavior, and Manufacturing a Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
For nearly five years, Yemenis have endured daily airstrikes. The United States provides logistical and intelligence support for Riyadh’s airstrike campaign. In other words, Washington is responsible for selecting targets.
These targets often include homes, factories, ports, fishing boats, cars, roads, schools, funerals, weddings, cemeteries, and just about anything else imaginable. Roughly 100,000 people have died or sustained injuries.
In addition to the invasion, Saudi Arabia has imposed a blockade and siege against Yemen. This is part and parcel of Saudi Arabia’s plan to isolate Yemen from the international community and suffocate the population into submission.
The UN estimates that 22 million people require immediate medical care that the strained Yemeni healthcare system simply cannot provide. Patients with renal failure, diabetics, pregnant women, and cancer patients are some of the most vulnerable.
Yemen’s Health Ministry spokesman told Geopolitics Alert that hospitals are preparing to close due to the fuel shortage.
The land, air, and sea blockade severely restricts all imports, exports, communication, finances, and flow of movement. Numbers show that the military assault has killed or injured over 100,000 people but the deaths from the blockade are more difficult to track. Yemenis rely on imports for 80% of foodstuffs so 8.4 million people currently face direct famine. Another 2.2 million require some form of humanitarian assistance.
The blockade has also triggered a cholera epidemic completely unprecedented in modern times. Nearly 1 million people became infected in 2017 and several thousand lost their lives. Cholera is a very preventable illness caused by contaminated water.
This unmatched humanitarian disaster is entirely intentional. In fact, it’s clearly a weapon of war to beat Yemen into submission.
Where is Yemen Headed?
Where is Yemen headed next? Unfortunately, Riyadh and Washington’s hardline stance means that Yemen suffers.
Ansarullah recently attacked Aramco and disrupted global oil prices in the hopes that this economic attack would push Riyadh towards peace negotiations. The two are currently speaking through a backchannel. For the time being, Saudi Arabia continues arbitrarily detaining aid ships and carrying out airstrikes.
These world powers have exploited Yemen as a springboard to expand their influence in the region.
Owner and editor of Geopolitics Alert, Randi Nord is a US-based geopolitical analyst and content strategist. She covers US imperialism with a special focus on Yemen, Iran, and Lebanon. She has participated in the UNHRC as a guest of NGOs and speaks at anti-war events.