FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bloody Entanglements: Saudi Arabia, Britain and Yemen

“How our ally is using British arms runs counter to our self-proclaimed role in the world, and our aid efforts.”
– Major General Tim Cross, Dec 14, 2015.

The Saudi Arabian effort in Yemen has been essentially written off by its Western allies as one of those things. In terms of strategy, there are bigger fish to fry in Syria, and areas where the next feted bogeyman, Islamic State, is doing its work. And yes, while Saudi Arabia allows decapitation, amputation, established laws of misogyny and a range of restrictions against Islamic faiths not quite in line with the House of Saud, it is an ally. And allies are good to stand by – aren’t there?

The case of Yemen suggests that amnesia is settling in over the entire landscape. The House of Saud is playing its cards well, conducting its relations with the West in a manner that combines disdain and grovelling in equal measure. There are enemies in Yemen it would like to vanquish, and so far, it has gotten some of what it wants. Not that its enemies are going into the night quietly.

Since the intervention began in March, Shiite Houthi rebels, who are assisted by military forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, continue to maintain their stronghold in the capital Sana’a. The Hadi government in exile functions in Aden, Saudi Arabia’s preferred choice. From the air, the Saudi forces pummel targets and have made a good go of pummelling the capital. On the ground, there are dangers of Islamic State suicide attacks. (In September, two suicide bombers detonated themselves in the Houthi-run Balili mosque in the capital, killing 29.)

The population are feeling, as they tend to in such situations, the greatest effects of the actions, with 60 percent, according to the World Food Programme, close to starvation. To date, the United Nations claims 5,800 people have perished in the conflict.

While the Saudi presence in attacks on Syria is minimal, it leads the mission against Yemen, supplemented by forces from the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain. It was recently reported by Amnesty International that the Saudi-led forces between August and October 2015 conducted five airstrikes that involved the deliberate targeting of schools. This led to the deaths of five civilians, injuries to 14 others and disruption to some 6,500 children.

A range of other facilities connected with aid have also been hit by coalition forces with devastating effect: a relief warehouse run by Oxfam; two bases of the Save the Children Fund; and clinics operated by Médicins San Frontières.

The double bind of the Saudi relationship with other states, a good deal lathered in hypocrisy that it is, crops up whenever there are public discussion between Riyadh and other Western governments. This takes place on two levels – an internal one, given the Kingdom’s approach to human rights; and an external one, with its financial and military role behind global Sunni militancy.

A neat, if supreme example of ghastliness has been David Cameron’s stance on the subject of condemning anti-war opponents at home as terrorist sympathisers while cuddling up to Riyadh, a long-time recipient of British military hardware.

In October, the veteran journalist John Snow put Cameron through the wringer to see why he had been so keen to get a seat for Saudi Arabia on the UN Human Rights Council. Such a gesture was tantamount to placing an overly enthusiastic fox in the chick coop.

Having made it clear that the PM and his government opposed “the death penalty anywhere and everywhere and we make that clear in all our international contacts,” Cameron faced an incredulous observation from Snow. The stance was “curious” given the “squalid” deal to lobby the Saudis in joining the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

On facing one of Snow’s barrages as to why it was done, with persistent deflections from Cameron, the nub was finally reached. The relationship with Riyadh was important because “we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe.” Bomb plots had been stopped in their tracks as a result. What does it matter what that government does to its citizens?

The external nature of Riyadh’s policy has also placed Britain’s Middle East policy under scrutiny, one that has intensified ahead of UN-sponsored peace talks. Even members from Cameron’s own party were wondering if the PM had muddied the slate with military support for the Kingdom just as humanitarian aid was being supplied to Yemen. This, despite assertions by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond that a “legitimate war” is being conducted.

Andrew Mitchell, former Tory cabinet minister, has taken exception to Britain’s entangled role regarding Saudi Arabia and Yemen. “Britain’s humanitarian and foreign policy are pursuing different ends.” As Yemen was being pulverised, “we try to get aid in through ports which are being blockaded and while British ordnance is being dropped there.” Since the conflict began, some 37 export licenses for military goods have been granted.

Retired Major General Tim Cross, while conceding that selling arms to the Kingdom was “well within” the rights of Britain, saw a patent inconsistency. There was “a clear risk that the government is complicit in indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas – breaches of international and UK law.”

This conflicted policy has been costly – £400 million in taxpayer aid to Yemen, paired with arms sales to Riyadh. But such costs are nothing compared to the slaughter on the ground, the product of a certain breed of terrorist sympathising UK foreign policy has been showing for a time. Different ends, indeed.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail