August 30, 2015

Saudi Monarchy: Spewing Petrodollars & Bombs

Yohannan Chemarapally

YEMEN, among the poorest countries in the Arab world has been subjected to unprovoked aggression by its wealthier neighbour, Saudi Arabia since the last week of March. The Saudi Kingdom has assembled an alliance that includes all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states barring the honourable exception of Oman. The other non GCC monarchies in the region like Jordan and Morocco have been participating in cowardly air raids targeting heavily populated Yemeni cities. A Moroccan F-16 fighter jet was shot down over Yemen in the first week of May. The Saudis failed to get Pakistan involved in their latest military adventure despite a great deal of arm twisting. The Saudis had also hoped to prevail on Egypt to support their initial plans of launching a ground invasion. Better sense has prevailed in both Cairo and Islamabad. Both the Egyptian and Pakistani governments are indebted to the Saudis and the rich GCC countries for bailing them out of dire financial situations in recent years. However, the military in the two countries have concluded that it is a “fool’s errand” to be involved in the domestic affairs of another Muslim country and that too in a country with a volatile history like Yemen. Public opinion in Pakistan was solidly against the dispatch of troops to Saudi Arabia. Only organisations like the Lashkar-i-Taiba supported the move to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia. It has been reported that the Saudi also had an additional demand that only Sunni members of the Pakistan army be sent. But Saudi munificence has persuaded countries like the rump Republic of Sudan and Senegal to pledge troop support to the ongoing Saudi military misadventure in Yemen. There have been protests in both countries against the announcement by the governments in Riyadh and Dakar that they will be sending a token number of troops to help in the Saudi campaign against Yemen. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has also pledged support to Saudi Arabia for its military intervention in Yemen. Two years ago, the two countries had fallen out bitterly over the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Now the Saudis are supporting an off-shoot of the Brotherhood in Yemen, the Islah Party. King Salman's brother, the late King Abdullah who passed away earlier in the year, had described the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation”. The Brotherhood is also proscribed in the UAE. INFRASTRUCTURE UNDER ATTACK The bombing raids on Yemen targeting the major cities like Sana, Aden and Taez has caused immense damage to the poor country's infrastructure. Airports, hospitals, factories and schools have come under attack. The UN estimates that over 1500 civilians have been killed so far, many of them women and children. The UN's Food Agency has described the situation in the country “as catastrophic”. A spokesman for the FAO said that Yemen imports 90 percent of its food even when there was comparative peace. Since the last two months, the country has not been able to import anything due to the Saudi imposed blockade. The agricultural sector has been virtually destroyed with the Saudi led alliance targeting irrigation systems. Even before the Saudi's started their bombing campaign, 40 percent of the Yemeni population of 24 million were without jobs. At the end of 2014, the UN had estimated that 60 percent of the country's population was in need of humanitarian assistance. After the Saudi bombing campaign started, the UN estimates that 12 million Yemenis have become “food insecure”. The country now is in more dire need of food, medicines and other basic necessities. The Saudis had made it difficult for aid agencies to distribute relief during the five day humanitarian cease fire in the third week of May. Helping the Saudis to maintain their draconian blockade is the United States. Seven Iranian ships carrying relief materiel to Yemen were stopped by the US Navy in late April. The Saudis threatened to block an Iranian ship carrying much needed aid after the recent cease fire agreement from docking in Yemeni waters. The US has intervened militarily in many countries on the pretext of the so called “responsibility to protect” (R2P) vulnerable populations doctrine. So far, there has not been a single word of condemnation from the White House on the havoc wrought by Saudi bombs on the civilian population of Yemen. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry did however say in the first week of March that Washington was “deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Yemen”. Despite the use of the massive US supplied air power and the deployment of banned weapons like cluster bombs, the Yemeni forces consisting mainly of the majority of the Yemeni army loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi militia are refusing to give up. The Saudis have conspicuously not targeted areas that have now fallen under the control of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In Syria too, the Saudis, along with Turkey and Qatar are bolstering the al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in the region. Many observers of the West Asian political scene are now comparing the actions of Saudi Arabia with that of Israel. The Saudis, like Israel, have been intervening militarily in the affairs of their neighbours. In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sent in its army to quell the popular pro-democracy movement. Like Israel, Saudi is also targeting prominent leaders for assassination. The house of the former president Saleh in a populated area of the capital was targeted by Saudi war planes in the first week of May. The Saudis declared the entire province of Sada in the northeast of Yemen as a no go area for civilians. Many of the civilian casualties of the latest war in Yemen occurred here. “The indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, with or without prior warning is in contravention of international humanitarian law”, observed Johannes Van Der Klauw, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Yemen. The Yemenis have always indicated their willingness to find a negotiated settlement to the conflict but have demanded a complete stoppage of the Saudi led attacks on their country before talks can begin. The Houthis and their allies have refused to go to Riyadh or the capitals of Gulf countries participating in the Saudi led military coalition for peace talks. The Houthi leadership has said that they would prefer talks to be held between the different Yemeni political factions within their own country. “We demand a complete end to the aggression against Yemen and the lifting of the blockade, to resume the political dialogue under the sponsorship of the United Nations”, the spokesman for the Houthi leadership said in the second week of May. Earlier UN Secretary General, Ban Ki moon had issued a call for an early end to the fighting and talks to be held under the UN auspices. PLAN TO SCUPPER US-IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL The new Saudi leadership under King Salman had planned the attack on Yemen even as talks on power sharing between the various political factions in Yemen had reached a crucial stage. The Saudi leadership was privy to the talks and knew that a political settlement was on the anvil. The Saudi war against Yemen, according to diplomatic sources, was part of the Israeli-Saudi game plan to scupper the US-Iran nuclear deal. By trying to paint the Houthis as Iranian surrogates the Saudi leadership hoped to score important propaganda points in Washington. They also wanted to draw Iran into the military conflict at a time when it is engaged in delicate negotiations as it prepares for the signing of the formal nuclear deal in June. The Obama administration seems to have seen through the game plan. While it is happy to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia to bomb the hapless people of Yemen, the Obama administration has left the Saudi monarchy with a long rope in Yemen. “The Saudi air force could not carry out day-in day-out bombing missions in Yemen without help from the US trainers and maintenance experts and the flow of spare parts and ammunition”, Bruce Reidel, a Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institute and a former top CIA functionary, told the NYT. Saudi Arabia has spent $500 billion in the last twenty years on defense purchases. Most of the money has gone to the United States. At the recent Camp David meeting attended by Gulf leaders, the Obama administration signalled that it was for a speedy political solution of the situation in Yemen. President Obama also offered security guarantees to the GCC countries. The Gulf monarchies know fully well that they are totally dependent on the United States for their security. All of them host big American military bases on their territory. Anyway, as a commentator noted, it is not a so-called “nuclear Iran” that the monarchs are afraid of. It is the emergence of a prosperous and vibrant Iran, that would play its rightful role in the region. The Houthis too are playing a waiting game. They too have sophisticated weaponry which the Americans had provided in the last decade when the government in Sana was aligned to Washington. The US supplied more than $500 million worth of arms to the Yemeni government from 2006 onwards. Much of this weaponry is now in the hands of the Houthis and their allies after they captured the capital Sana in January this year. But they have desisted so far from using their missiles and rockets against Saudi targets across the long common border. Their support on the ground seems to be only growing as the Saudis keep on bombing them and trying to starve them into submission. The man they want to reinstall into the presidency, Abdu Rasoul Mansour Hadi remains safely ensconced in Riyadh while his countrymen are being subjected to terror from the air.