Backed by U.S. logistical and intelligence support, the Saudi Arabian petro-monarchy and its allies have pounded Yemen with devastating air strikes aimed at preparing the way for a possible ground invasion.
Saudi Arabia’s “coalition of the willing” oil monarchs and other Saudi allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab League are threatening to send some 150,000 troops to oust the Houthi tribal-based rebels from Yemen’s capital Sana’a and other rebel-controlled cities throughout Yemin.
Yemen is now subject to what amounts to a full naval blockade, accompanied by almost total control of its airspace. This is enforced by 100 Saudi warplanes, supplemented by fighter jets from its “coalition partners” and U.S. “allies”—the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan.
The U.S. has approved the airstrikes and provides logistical support by locating targets and related surveillance techniques. Britain, the former colonial master of Yemen, is also lending military intelligence for the operation. Egypt has a naval fleet standing off the Yemeni coast and has threatened to send ground troops into the country.
The terror bombing operation in Yemen is named Determination Storm, (reminiscent of the 1990-91 U.S. mass slaughter in Iraq, Operation Desert Storm). Reports recount almost continuous bombings—as in Tikrit, Iraq, in recent days, where on-the-scene reporters counted U.S. bomb blasts at the rate of twice a minute throughout the evening hours.
The Royal Saudi Air Force is leading the charge in Yemen, obliterating all major air defense weapons of the Houthis and their allies, according to a March 28 statement by a Saudi military adviser. He asserted that the main military infrastructure around Sana’a had been taken out along with most of the main roadways connecting the capital with major cities Taiz and Aden. Similarly, the RSAF laid waste to all major Yemeni airfields in the south.
Needless to say, civilian casualties have risen into the hundreds, with Saudi officials, like their Israeli counterparts during the Gaza slaughter, blaming civilian deaths on the Houthis, with spurious accusations that they have been using civilians and public buildings as human shields. The state-run Saudi Press Agency chimed in, insisting that the saturation terror strikes were conducted with “precision weapons to avoid collateral damage.” The Saudi media neglected to mention that Yemeni media outlets as well as the offices of the Arab-language news network, Al Jazeera, have been destroyed.
The rapidly unfolding Yemini events, including the Houthis‘ occupation of almost the entire country, impelled the U.S. in late March to hastily remove its Special Forces units in the south and to suspend its drone strikes aimed at the forces of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Popular support for the government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi declined in part because of its collaboration with the U.S. drone operation, which caused a number of civilian deaths. So complete was the Hadi government’s collapse that the Saudis were compelled to use its naval armada to evacuate what remained of this regime, along with UN observers.
A “negotiated settlement” is not to be excluded, as when Yemen’s “Arab Spring” protests were shut down through Saudi intervention in 2011.
Following a year of mass protests against unemployment and corruption, the 2011 rebellion ended when Yemen’s military strongman president of 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, agreed to a “pact” pressed by the Saudis. Under the terms, Saleh would step down and be replaced by his vice president, Hadi, who served as president until he fled last month to Saudi Arabia. The Houthis, while rejecting this 2012 “pact,” have allied today with defecting military forces that are still loyal to Saleh.
The Houthis are a populist movement based on the Zaidi Shiite expression of Islam, and represent some one-third of the population. They have been periodically and brutally oppressed by the essentially Saudi-installed Hadi regime and by the Saleh dictatorship before him.
The Houthi drive to power in this impoverished nation began in August 2014, when its leadership took advantage of discontent over the government’s removal of fuel subsidies, and called for protests. Tens of thousands demonstrated in Sana’a, with demands against corruption and calls for the government to resign. The following month, the Houthis took over key government buildings, before signing a UN-brokered pact to form a “unity government” with Hadi’s regime. In January 2015, Houthi forces occupied the presidential palace, demanding that a new constitution be drafted to ensure more representation for minority groups. Instead, Hadi and his government resigned and fled the capital.
Hadi initially took refuge in the southern port city of Aden—capital of the formerly independent and pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen and a major center for the transport of oil in the region. He is currently partaking in secret negotiations in Saudi Arabia to “resolve” the conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, representatives of the Arab League, and it seems, all other Saudi allies are involved. There have been no reports to date that the Houthi rebels are party to these discussions.
The imperialist powers are pressing for a “solution” aimed at re-establishing the capitalist status quo and its Hadi government enforcers. But Saudi officials have repeatedly warned that nothing but total rebel surrender would be acceptable.
Saudi intervention in the past
The Saudi regime is not new to intervention in neighboring Yemen. To thwart a republican alternative to the reactionary clerical government of North Yemen in the 1960s, the Saudis smashed the insurgent movement with the support of Britain and weapons supplied by Israel.
Similarly, the Saudis were first on the scene to brutally crush the 2011 Bahraini pro-democracy movement. Some 1000 Saudi troops to support the Sunni monarchy headed by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa in the face of massive protests by the island’s Shiite majority against their marginalization. Under Saudi pressure, the United Arab Emirates sent in another 500 troops to secure the oppressive regime. Mass Bahraini mobilizations exceeding 100,000 were brutally crushed, with thousands arrested and many tortured.
Under worldwide pressure, Al-Khalifa was compelled to agree to an independent commission of inquiry, which issued a report on Nov. 23, 2012, confirming “systematic torture and other forms of physical and psychological abuse on detainees, as well as other human rights violations.” The report rejected the monarch’s claim that the protests were instigated by Iran.
Likewise, Saudi Arabia, almost always with U.S. agreement, is no newcomer to “regime change.” In July 2013 it colluded with the Egyptian military coup led by U.S.-backed General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to remove the elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
The unleashing of 150,000 oil monarch troops in Yemen, backed by promised U.S. air support, will amount to yet another major escalation of the regional catastrophe set in motion when the U.S. first intervened in Iraq with 250,000 troops and devastated that nation, beginning in 2003.
There is yet another dimension to the events unfolding in Yemen today. Houthi mosques in Sana’a have been systematically attacked by Islamic State suicide bombers, according to IS’s own claims, although others point to al-Qaeda terrorists as the culprits. A recorded IS release stated: “IS soldiers will not rest until they stop the Safawi [Iranian] operation in Yemen.”
Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi released a March 22 statement accusing U.S. and Israel of supporting the terrorist bombings. He also scored Saudi Arabia and regional Arab states for financing terrorist groups operating inside Yemen. Indeed, the Saudi government itself, if not forces high in the Saudi monarchy, was central to the organization and financing of IS when its immediate objective was the removal of Syria’s Bashir al-Assad government. In Syria as in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt and elsewhere, U.S. and Saudi-backed insurgencies and coups—whether led by kings, military dictators, or terrorists—are the primary “weapons of choice.”
A religious war?
Although the corporate media promotes the notion that the events in Yemen are at base a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran or a religious war between Sunni and Shiite versions of Islam, every recent war in the modern era refutes this caricature of historical analysis.
The foundational politics of the Middle East today were established at the dawn of the colonial era, when expanding imperialist capitalism sent conquering armies around the world to secure resources and establish new markets for its ruling-class elite. In the course of this genocidal venture, tens of millions were slaughtered, as in Africa, where in the “Belgian” Congo alone, 12 million Africans fell victim to King Leopold II’s imperial aspirations. Millions more perished in every African colonized land.
In the name of “civilization” itself, usually “Christian civilization,” and the racist notion of the “white man’s burden,” whole continents were enslaved and their historic territories divided and re-configured, while compliant puppets were set in place to administer the conquered peoples. “Divide and conquer” became the worldwide imperialist modus vivendi; ethnic divisions and hierarchies were created where none had previously existed.
Such was the case with Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and beyond. Today’s protests have been qualitatively more an expression of massive outrage against the neoliberal capitalist austerity imposed on poor nations by a flagging world capitalist order than the product of differences in religious beliefs.
Yemen is a case in point of the underdevelopment and poverty that imperialism fosters throughout the world. The country is beset by 40 percent unemployment. A quarter of the economy rests on oil drilling—which some believe will run out in several years, leading to even higher joblessness.
In present day Yemen, the Zaidi Shiites have had a long history of peaceful and collaborative relations with Sunni Muslims. The same can be said for virtually all parts of the world. In Iraq, for example, the initial U.S. invasion was in significant part opposed by both Sunni and Shiite forces, whose experience with previous eras of imperialist conquest was far from distant in their consciousness.
The notion that the demise of the Arab Spring and the subsequent chaos in the region is the product of historic differences among Muslims fades before the reality that the U.S. and its European imperialist partners—aided by client states like Saudi Arabia and Israel—remain the chief sources of terror and discontent in the world today.
Iran, whose secular president Mohammed Mosaddegh was removed in a 1953 CIA coup and replaced with a king (the Shah) is a prime example. When the earthshaking Iranian Revolution removed the Shah 26 years later, in 1979, the U.S. retaliated by arming and financing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, then a touted U.S. ally, who proceeded to conduct a 10-year war against Iran that caused the deaths of one million Iranians as well as close to the same number of Iraqis.
The present U.S.-imposed sanctions against Iran, supposedly over Iran’s right to refine nuclear fuel, are nothing less than a pretext to force Iran back into the imperialist orbit in order to once again secure control of a nation with fossil fuel resources that are among the world’s largest. The present sanctions, which have had devastating effects on the Iranian people—including a decline of some 30-40 percent in the standard of living—are aimed at opening up Iran to yet another round of U.S. imperialist exploitation. Iran is seen by U.S. policymakers as little more than a former colony to be re-conquered for the private profit of U.S. oil corporations.
The demise of the Arab Spring, a regional movement in almost all cases characterized by the massive rising of poor and oppressed peoples against their capitalist rulers, is tragic proof that whatever momentary gains are won by mass struggles cannot be maintained or expanded without a challenge to the capitalist system, including a break with U.S. and other imperialist exploiters. Employing one reactionary means or another, the U.S. was quick to intervene in the Arab Spring popular mobilizations, with the central objective of subordinating them to imperialist control.
It is essential to construct mass revolutionary socialist parties to lead the masses in the struggle against austerity and oppression and in revolutionary action aimed at bringing about a fundamental transformation of society. A new world can be brought into being—one in which socialist equality and freedom will flourish, based on the rule of the vast majority as opposed to the private profits of the elite murderous few.
Jeff Mackler is a staffwriter for Socialist Action. He can be reached at email@example.com socialist action.org