Port Blockade Shines Light on U.S. Role in Yemeni Massacre

A boy and his sisters watch graffiti artists spray on a wall, commemorating the victims who were killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May 18, 2015. Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels resumed early on Monday in the southern port city of Aden after a five-day truce expired amid talks on the war-torn country's future that were boycotted by the rebels. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

“It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told US News Centre.

He is referring to the potential results of recent transpiring’s in the Yemeni civil war between Houthi Rebel groups and the displaced government of President Hadi (backed by Saudi Arabia). Recent violence in the capital of Saudi Arabia, and a resulting resource blockade has threatened civilian food supply in Yemen.

Supported by the U.S., The Saudi’s have helped lead a 10-country coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015, which also includes the U.A.E., Qatar, and Egypt, among others. This more recent crisis, though, has once again called into question the humanity and practicality of the bloody civil war.

Violence in Riyadh

On Monday, Nov. 6, missiles were launched at the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh. The Saudi Coalition has blamed this on the Iranian government, which has supported the Houthis, yet denies ever having armed them. This denial has come under much scrutiny from the international community.

The Houthis have responded by claiming that the missiles are locally produced, and that the strike was in response to the Saudi coalition bombings of civilian territories. This is the deepest strike in Saudi territory that the Houthis have pulled off to date, yet Patriot Missile batteries, which were sold to Saudi Arabia by the U.S., shot down the missile.

Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia

The coalition has threatened retaliatory action in response, stating that this action, “constitutes a clear act of aggression that targets neighboring countries, and threatens peace and security in the region and globally.” It also reserves the right to, “respond to Iran in the appropriate time and manner.”

Any sort of direct violent “response” to Iran by Saudi Arabia could lead to a more global war, with allies all over the world being pulled into conflict.

The Port Blockades and Health Emergencies

Saudi Arabia reacted by ordering a blockade on all land, air, and sea ports to Yemen, which is the poorest of the Arab Nations. Millions of civilians stuck in Yemen rely on imports for food every day just to stay alive. These imports represent 90 percent of daily needs. Blockades like this threaten food supply so greatly, that millions were immediately put at risk of famine.

These sort of blockades also threaten the supply of other vital resources such as vaccines and medicines. The humanitarian community has stressed that the current stock of vaccines in Yemen will only last one month if they are not restocked. Chlorine tablets are also being held up at the ports. These tablets fight the Cholera epidemic which has taken the lives of thousands of civilians

The deadly outbreak is largely due to the bombing of water/food treatment plants, leaving food and water totally contaminated. 500,000 Yemenis have been infected with the disease and 2,000 have died.

Yemeni children suffer from a major Cholera outbreak. – 6 September 2017, World Health Organization

On Monday, Nov. 13, UN ambassador to Riyadh, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, has said that government ports will open up in Aden, Mukala, Al-Mokha, along with airports in Aden, Seiyun, and Socotra. The lives of these millions of civilians is completely reliant upon the smooth process of re-opening the ports and the importing of these supplies.

Utter disaster was narrowly avoided it appears, for now, but it is another chance to question the ethics and efficacy of this war. It is also a chance to hold those driving the bloodshed to account.

The Coalition behind the Carnage

Leading the campaign of airstrikes against rebel groups is Saudi Arabia. But they aren’t the richest and most powerful nation involved with the campaign. That country would be the U.S.

We have been making arms deals with Saudi Arabia for several decades, as they have been a strategic ally of ours since World War II. This year alone the Trump administration inked a $350 billion weapons deal over a period of ten years, with $110 billion up front.

A controversial component to our arms dealing with the Kingdom is the cluster bombs we have sold them, which the Saudis have utilized in civilian territory. Cluster bombs are widely regarded as illegal by the international community and condemned strongly by countless human rights groups due to the indiscriminate danger they possess to civilians.

We’ve been selling Boeing F15 fighter jets to the Saudi government for the better part of a decade which they utilize in combat flights over Yemen. The latest deal was signed in 2011, worth close to $30 billion.

The U.S. has been sending over troops to train Saudi fighters and has also been refueling Saudi fighter Jets using airbases in Turkey and the Arabian Sea. This means we are directly aiding the destruction of Yemen.

Iran, the Nuclear Deal, and huge contracts

If thousands of innocent civilians are to suffer the fate of slow and painful death, one would hope that it is for a moral and courageous cause. But why, why does the U.S. support a campaign that has killed thousands of civilians? What is that cause? One purported reason is Al-Qaeda.

The U.S., within its greater counter-terrorism policy, is fighting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which formed in January 2009. This branch of Al-Qaeda has used the chaos to strategically take power within different parts of the country, which has lead to U.S. supported airstrikes on the country.

However the haphazard bombing campaigns, which have affected civilians on a mass level, seem to embolden extremism in the region more than combat it. A whole generation of youth in Yemen has witnessed the murder of their loved ones, making it close to impossible to slow down extremist recruiting. It appears, on a certain level, to be counter-productive.

The original reason for U.S. involvement in this war is greater proxy conflict developing throughout the Middle East. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni force, is in constant conflict with the powerful Shia Muslim nation, Iran. Yemen represents a shadow war in which the two forces are fighting indirectly through the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels respectively. This has inevitably lead to the U.S. government backing our Saudi allies.

The Iranian Nuclear Deal, which was signed in 2015, involved the dropping of U.S. (and other countries) sanctions on Iran in exchange for the Shia Nation dismantling its nuclear capabilities. The removing of sanctions has led to economic and political success for Iran within the region. The Saudi government feels threatened by this, which is the reason they so vehemently oppose an Iranian-friendly rebel group taking control near its borders.

Our support for the air campaign is directly correlated with our support for our allies. This support, dubiously, seems to be driven just as much by money interest as it is geopolitical security.

Saudi Arabia, known for the oppression of its own citizens, its blatant disregard for human rights, and its countless war crimes, seems to make for an odd bedmate of the US. Ever stop and wonder why we support them? Considering the Kingdom is the antithesis of all things democratic, secular, and humanitarian, it cannot be our shared values.

The driver of our close ties to Saudi Arabia, along with having a strong military ally in the Middle East, has mainly been its vast wealth of oil. As long as fossil fuel companies can get cheap oil from Saudi Arabia, our government will support them at every turn. This year during President Trump’s visit to the Saudi Arabia, US firms signed close to $400 billion worth of deals with the Saudi Government, including $50 billion in oil deals.

President Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud sign $110 billion arms deal, in the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh. – 20 May 2017, UPI

Not only do our financial ties to overseas allies seem to have a large impact of foreign policy decisions, so do our domestic financial ties as well.

Remember Boeing, the company that makes the F15 fighter Jets that were sold to the Saudis? The Boeing Company has over 1,000 government contracts, amounting to over $1 billion total. Boeing, in 2017 alone, spent over $17 million on campaign contributions. When all they need to do to make a billion dollars is spend a couple million on lawmakers, it seems like a worth-while investment.

But if our security decisions are made based on these financial dealings, which would be a logical assumption given the context, it would represent great corruption. It would also represent the slaughtering of scores of civilians simply to make profit, under the deceits of national security.

It is reminiscent of the days of Iraq when Vice President Cheney’s old oil company Haliburton made $39.5 billion off a war that we didn’t need to be in, profiting off the blood of young men.

Or when Erik Prince (yes, the same Erik Prince currently lobbying for his private mercenary force to take over U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Africa) ran Blackwater, a private military contractor representing the U.S. whose men inexplicably murdered 17 civilians in Iraq in 2007.

This wave of private profit guiding military actions is far from new. We were warned about it by former President Dwight Eisenhower. In his farewell speech, he called it the “military industrial complex.” It is a complex represented well in the Yemeni crisis.

Complicit in War Crimes

It appears that the U.S., at least under the lead of the Obama administration, began to realize that U.S. involvement in the war was beginning to do more harm than good. President Obama clearly wanted to avoid being attached to Saudi war crimes.

Private documents obtained by Reuters revealed that Obama wanted to distance the administration from the bloody conflict’s potential legal troubles. Declassified emails revealed that Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken discussed with officials ways that the U.S. could distance itself from issues regarding Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC).

Documents also revealed that the administration was worried that the Saudi air campaign could not avoid striking “critical infrastructure,” that Yemen desperately needed.

The U.S. responded by providing the Saudis with a “no-strike” list, urging the military to avoid hitting areas of importance such as water and electrical facilities, as well as other crucial civilian infrastructure.

Saudi Arabia did not head the call to minimize civilian destruction. In August of 2016, after a ceasefire failed, airstrikes took out the main bridge from the port of Hodeidah to the capital of Sanaa. According to Oxfam International, this was a main supply route for humanitarian aid.

A U.S. official has claimed that the bridge was on the no-strike list. This claim has not been substantiated.

Yemen under Trump

Now, with the Trump administration in place, it appears that we will be once again ramping up operations in Yemen.

In January, a plan that was deferred under President Obama went into action under Trump. It was a raid in a small village in Yemen called Yakla, with the goal of taking out AQAP leader Qasim al-Rimi and obtaining key information in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

The mission did not go well. Al-Rimi was not even at the target. Though they did take out 14 AQAP fighters, 16 civilians were killed in the mayhem, and US Navy Seal Ryan Owens was fatally wounded. The Seals were not expecting the fierce resistance they got, and an aircraft coming from the Gulf of Aden to aid in the fighting crashed on landing in Yemen.

The Trump administration appears to be moving forward aggressively not only with counter-terrorism missions against al-Qaeda, but also in supporting Saudi Arabia in just about anything they would like to do. And the civilian death toll is sure to keep rising as a result.

What’s next for Yemen?

As young children are slowly starving day in and day out, as innocent civilians are dying every day from Cholera, as violent airstrikes continue to take out villages of innocent people, it seems contractor profit and political opportunism are being put ahead of hungry dying babies. As graphic as that may be to hear, they are the facts on the ground.

Civilians gather where a Saudi-led airstrike took place in Sanaa, Yemen. – 11 Nov 2017, AP Photo/Hani Mohammed

Though this blockade crisis appears to have been mitigated temporarily, it undoubtedly leaves open the potential for another crisis of its kind. Whether or not Iran is behind the capabilities, rebel groups have proven the ability to strike deep within the Saudi Kingdom.

If these strikes are to become a trend, expect more blockades in the near future. And if that is the case, and they last much longer than this blockade, it means utter disaster. As of now, U.S. hands are handcuffed tight to this conflict. And expect more hungry, dying babies.