In Yemen, a Debt That Can Never Be Repaid

In a video that first circulated online in August of 2018, the viewer sees a bus full of loud, happy boys celebrating the last day of school with a field trip. Parked in a bustling market in northern Yemen, the school bus and its exuberant passengers seemed far away from the conflict that led the United Nations to declare their country the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crisis.

The war soon intruded on the joyful scene as a missile ripped through the vehicle, killing 40 children between the ages of six and 11, plus 11 adults, including bystanders. The bomb, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, was provided to Saudi Arabia by the United States.

This story, one among countless others involving schools, hospitals and funerals, mostly passed under the radar of the Western press, which was busily releasing puff pieces about the young Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohamad Bin Salman or MBS, who, along with his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, was a chief architect of the war.

The main argument made in favor of the invasion was the growing power of the Shiite Houthi insurgency, which had toppled the country’s Sunni government in 2014. Houthis are clients of Iran; the Sunnis are clients of Saudi Arabia.

The obvious danger for Saudi Arabia–formerly not much overtly involved in foreign military action–was getting involved in another country’s civil war. This led to the use of cheap Iranian drones by the Houthis to make attacks against critical infrastructure deep within the kingdom. When the cross-border war began, the Saudis began to seriously cash in on their oil relationship with the US, extending back to World War II. The US has been granted access to oil and, in return, has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in the kingdom even as the US sells the Saudis almost any weapons they desire.

Indeed, the United States, Canada and other NATO member states have directly supported the Saudis and the UAE with weapons, intelligence, and expertise throughout the war. The Saudi air force would have been grounded without such help, making these countries complicit in the deaths of countless innocents.

Despite this support, Saudi Arabia and its allies have been remarkably unsuccessful in defeating the Houthi insurgents who now control much of a country that some have called the ‘Afghanistan of the Middle East’ for its historical resistance to foreign occupation. Part of this is likely due to the reliance on air power and the use of mercenaries and foreign militia members as the main ground troops that then led to its own atrocities.

Thankfully, a UN negotiated truce that went into effect last April and has held, bringing much needed relief to the Yemeni people. Still, the fear of restarted hostilities remains like a shadow hanging over the country.  Even if the truce holds, the country, already the poorest in the Middle East, will need to rebuild much of its infrastructure to avoid further crises resulting from things like water-borne diseases.

As for those boys on that bus, like all of the other children murdered and maimed by this war of choice, they will never have the chance to become the doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers their country so desperately needs. It is a debt to Yemen that all those involved from the invaders themselves to those that provided the means to prosecute the war, can never repay.

Derek Royden is a writer based in Montreal, Canada.