Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Why Yemen is Different for the Western Powers from Libya.

Unlike Libya, where leading western statesmen railed against Gaddafi for being a genocidal tyrant, for threatening to use his air force against the Benghazi rebels, Saudi Arabia's actual use of its air force and killing of civilians is barely headline news.Windbags such as Bernard Henri Levy have no indignation this time.

In July 2015 Saudi Arabia and UAE followed up on their air strikes by a ground invasion, Operation Golden Arrow, which barely made the headlines in the West. It is the Saudi airstrikes, however, which have caused the vast majority of the civilian casualties with few attempts at safeguarding lives.

On Sunday 30th August Saudi air strikes killed 36 civilians working at a bottling plant in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah. A further 65 people were killed in the frontline city of Taiz the Friday before and the bombing of a milk factory in Western Yemen in July also killed 65 people.

Michael Knights of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has written,
'...the Saudi-led air campaign is quite brutal. It's not like one of our modern air campaigns with the US or the UK, where we worry about civilian casualties. The Saudis, in many cases, seem to be deliberately causing civilian casualties and certainly are causing civilian suffering by knocking out power stations and other pieces of civilian infrastructure."
The House of Saud argue that it intervened militarily in Yemen to restore Abd-Rabbuh Maná¹£our Al-Hadi, the legitimate leader. But, of course, Hadi was positioned in power by them so as to forestall the possibility of democracy in Yemen after the Arab Spring of 2011 and winning 99.8% of the vote in 2012.

From Libya to Syria and Yemen, the main guiding interest of the Western Powers has been oil supply, energy diversification and transit routes from the Greater Middle East to Europe. With the nuclear deal with Iran secured, the lifting of sanctions means that balancing Iranian influence with the Saudis is even more vital.

With Yemen the reason Britain and the US align with Riyadh is not only due to the lucrative arms ties and the oil the US still imports. It is due to the fear that a Shi'ite Houthi dominated Yemen would give geostrategic control to its ally Iran which could control the Bab el-Mandeb strait.

The strait is the fourth-biggest shipping chokepoint in the world by volume. In 2013 carried about 3.8 billion barrels of oil from the Persian Gulf towards the Near East and the West. If the strait were to be closed oil destined for the Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline would have to be diverted around the Horn of Africa.

Iran could already close off the world's most strategic chokepoint-the Straits of Hormuz-which carries a colossal 17 million barrels of oil a day flowing through it; that is more than 30 per cent of the world’s oil transported via the seas and oceans. The fear is that it could close both.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, is paranoid that the US is prepared to betray their strategic alliance in favour of Iran. Indeed, at least it has an interest in upping the stakes in the region so that Washington has to support it against feared Shia uprisings and or blowback from ISIS spreading into the kingdom itself.

The conflict in Yemen has become a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but it is also a state undergoing civilisational collapse due to depleting oil reserves and the impact of global heating on supplies of water. In conjunction with burgeoning population numbers, the uprising of 2011 was inevitable.

However, the humanitarian consequences from both the Saudi bombing of civilians and the naval blockade have made a very grave situation potentially disastrous. Yemen has had to import increased amounts of food due to drought and without cheap fuel water cannot be pumped from increasingly dried up aquifer rocks.

The Saudi naval blockade is also a way of reasserting Saudi control in a region threatened not only by Iran but Al Qaida and ISIS which are both exploiting the chaos and collapse of a functioning state to advance their strategy of pushing the Saudis towards more extreme measures towards the Houthi Shi'ites.

With oil prices tanking so low at present, Riyadh has needed all the more to prove itself the prime Sunni Islamic state capable of showing the region who is boss on the Arabian Peninsula. This is needed to divert social discontent at the oil rich rentier elites outwards towards external enemies

The Shi'ites fit the need for an enemy and for a jihad in which ISIS is always going to be better positioned to carry on the work of the Saudis in exterminating Shi'ites in Yemen just as jihadists tried in Iraq and Syria. Car bombs have already been set off in the capital Sanaa against 'Shi'ite nests'.

As the Saudi war effort heads towards Sanaa, the likelihood is that it will defeat the Houthi rebels only at the cost of destroying any sort of functioning order there and hence do the work of ISIS for it before they step up their campaign against both the Saudis and against Shi'ites and others unwelcome in  a true Caliphate.

The US Presence : Threats to the Oil Tanker Traffic.

Al Qaida's presence in Yemen and the rise of ISIS are not only connected to the chaos of the Saudi war. They are also due to escalating conflicts between the US and its drone warfare programme and Al Qaida carried on by Obama as part of the 'war on terror' but with the idea of it being a full scale war dropped.

US strategy in the Horn of Africa is meant to complement that of its ally Saudi Arabia in keeping the Bab el-Mandeb free from terrorist attacks on tankers. Al Qaida has been much weakened by the rise of ISIS and so has become all the more fixated on a spectacular attack on the West's "energy umbilical cord".

As in Syria, the attempt to align with Saudi Arabia and Turkey and Qatar against Iran has meant the attempt to suppress the Houthi threat has conjured up an even worse spectre of blowback towards the Saudis in the form of ISIS whose recruitment numbers swelled after the Houthi advance preceding intervention.

Local jihadis affiliated to Al Qaida had looked to the organisation to protect them against 'martyrdom' from drone strikes but with its failure and Saudi private financing. The drone killing of AQAP leader al-Wuhayshi may have decapitated them but the killing of civilians has tended to lead to greater recruitment.

It would appear likely that ISIS would stand to benefit from the drone killings in future, though the use of drones is said to becoming more 'effective'. All the geopolitical conflicts and environmental factors are making towards creating another failed state in Yemen to join it with Syria.

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