News Analysis: The Little-Known Crisis in Yemen

Yemen roughly translates to “happy land,” due to the  once fertile and verdant lands, but the nation and its people have been ravaged by a civil war that has been considered by the United Nations (U.N.) and European Union (EU) to be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

After a coup d’état, by an insurgency group called the Houthis, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia has intervened to attempt to restore the previous government. Powers like, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia have instead merely created “a situation of instability, destruction, more extremism… and further distance from a civilized society,” says Dr. Waleed Mahdi, assistant professor of U.S.-Arab Cultural Policies at the University of Oklahoma.

The situation in Yemen has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by both the U.N. and EU on multiple occasions. UN News says about half of all “medical facilities are functional.” According to the World Food Programme “18 million Yemenis are food insecure, 8.4 million of which are severely so,” this situation has been caused by Saudi-led trade restrictions, increasing increasing the price of available food. These restrictions have been called a “de facto blockade’ by the UN Human Rights Council.  A blockade that Dr. Mahdi described as “[making] it virtually impossible for humanitarian aid to get into the country.”

The blockades have crippled the medical system and according to UN News left half of all “medical are functioning.” Dr. Mahdi goes on to say with disdain, “they have tried to suffocate the Houthis, but of course, not just the Houthis the people as well.”

“They have tried to suffocate the Houthis, but of course, not just the Houthis the people as well.”

As of April 2018, the war has resulted in 16,000 civilian casualties, although the UN estimates that the real numbers are “far higher.” Most of these casualties can be attributed to a series of indiscriminate airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. These targeted airstrikes often strike densely populated civilian locations and other areas supposed to be considered neutral. According to the UN Human Rights Council, “[Saudi]-coalition airstrikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties… such airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, weddings, funerals, detention facilities, civilian boats, and even hospitals.”

These actions, including the blockade on Yemeni ports and several other breaches of human rights, have been considered by the UN Human Rights Council to be “violations of international humanitarian law.” They stated that the governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Yemen have all been involved in these war crimes.

According to Dr. Mahdi, “UN and Human Rights Watch groups… have demonstrated in a very clear way how the Saudis have contributed in an indiscriminate way to the ruining infrastructure of the government.”

America has a long history of supporting Saudi Arabia and by extension their interests in the region. For instance, the Obama administration sold $115 billion worth of weapons and ammunition to Saudi Arabia. After the Human Rights Watch uncovered that ammunition used in a Saudi airstrike killing 155 civilians at a funeral was provided by the U.S. the Saudi coalition took responsibility and blamed the attack on “incorrect information.”

After this event and many like it, including an airstrike on a marketplace in March 2016, and another bombing the year prior on another marketplace, Obama banned the sale of certain kinds of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia.

Last month, the Saudi-led coalition bombed a school bus at a marketplace as it made its first stop of the day on a field trip. The attack killed 40 children and 11 adults including 70 injured. The Saudi-led coalition claimed on the day of the attack that it was a “legitimate military target.”

Investigations concluding on Sept. 1, prompted Saudi Arabia to admit that the shelling was a “mistake” and was “unjustified.”

With the assistance of munitions experts, CNN reporters discovered that the missile was supplied by the U.S. and made by Lockheed Martin, one of the largest global defense companies in America and the world. The Center for International Policy claims that the war in Yemen “provided billions in new business to key U.S. defense contractors.”

“18 million Yemenis are food insecure, 8.4 million of which are severely so.”

President Trump like his predecessor supported the Saudi-coalition involvement in the war. Four months after his inauguration, Trump repealed bans on the selling of certain precision-targeted military technologies implemented by Obama for the protection of human rights, and according to The New York Times proceeded to form an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, in May 2017, worth $110 billion.

The mastermind behind the Saudi-led coalition’s war has largely been MBS or Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salem. MBS is often considered to be an unusually liberal leader in Saudi Arabia. He has allowed women to drive and is attempting to reduce Saudi Arabi’s dependence on oil, through a plan called “Vision 2030.” But according to Dr. Mahdi, “the War in Yemen… is his signature.” MBS is also closely implicated in the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi, According to The Washington Post, “the CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Although Obama supported Saudi Arabia, as well as its war in Yemen, Trump made it his diplomatic goal to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia and MBS. His first diplomatic visit was to Saudi Arabia, where he later signed the arms deal worth $110 billion, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has sparked a surprisingly strong bond with MBS. Although Saudi Arabia and MBS are crucial for Donald Trump’s agenda with Israel and Palestine. “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region” says President Trump on Nov. 20.

Trump has often been criticized for offering Saudi Arabia a “blank check,” when it comes to supporting the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s other regional goals. Although America and Saudi Arabia have agreed that the arms deal is supposed to be used against enemy combatants and especially the Houthis, there are very few actual checks to Saudi Arabia’s ability to wage a campaign causing about 16,000 civilian casualties.

According to Dr. Mahdi “there are no serious check and balances to how that blank check has been written,” although there have been bipartisan attempts in Congress to hold the president and Saudi support accountable.

“[Saudi]-coalition airstrikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties… such airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, weddings, funerals, detention facilities, civilian boats, and even hospitals.”

Because of American support of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi presence in  the war the Houthis and their rhetoric have only been emboldened. According to the Houthis, the war is a war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, America, and any power that opposes the Houthis. “You are either with us or the enemies… You know we are in a fight with America, Saudi Arabia, we are in a fight with people who aggressively invaded our lands,” says Dr. Mahdi from the perspective of a Houthi. But this war is not just a war between these regional powers and Yemen, it is also a war between the people of Yemen.

“The people have lost their understanding of what Yemen means… we all shared the same flag, same national anthem, same passport,” says Dr. Mahdi.

They have clung to whatever ideological camps, most often based on their camp’s ability to feed them and take care of them. Creating a vast political divide between the people who were once all, Yemeni.

When asked whether the situation was similar to the U.S.’s political divide, Dr. Mahdi responded by saying “it’s much more similar to that, in the sense that you’re still having a stable country. Imagine if this country becomes unstable and all the [pipe] bombs sent to the offices of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and CNN… imagine if those have been detonated and the country has collapsed and Russia has sent troops to [America].”

After the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, many world leaders have called for a cease fire. Jim Mattis, U.S. secretary of Defense, has called for peace talks “within 30 days,” as of Oct. 30. Although this relies  on whatever Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, decides “he could decide tomorrow to just pull out,’ says Dr.Mahdi.