By Maxim Nikolenko.
Few people are aware today that the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet is currently unfolding not in Syria or Iraq, but in Yemen. Many of those few who closely follow the events on the southern tip of Arabian Peninsula would validly argue that Yemenis not only face a massive displacement from the American-supported war, but also an entirely man-made famine, which has yet to be officially recognized by the United Nations. Yet, the response was silence to the 21 million people who are in need of humanitarian aid. That silence was reverberated by politicians of the United States and the United Kingdom, and the corporate media which ethos us to believe in its viable mission of facilitating moral journalism.
Unlike Aleppo in Syria, where officials had described the besieged areas of the city as “slaughterhouse”, little was said about the besieged country that is Yemen. For over two years, a nation of 28 million people has been under a medieval blockade by Saudi Arabia, America’s biggest client in the Middle East. The naval blockade had restricted the flow of medicines, equipment and food into a country which heavily depends on imports for sustenance. A Severe shortage of basic goods quickly resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The already poorest people in the Arabian Peninsula were reduced into the middle ages.
Today, over 3 million Yemenis are displaced. UNICEF press release alerted back in December 2016 that 462,000 children were suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition, which means that 30-50% of them will most likely die before reaching their 5th birthday. Over 7 million people are in severe need of food assistance and 14 million are experiencing food insecurity. By the time of writing, the situation has most likely deteriorated, as food imports hit record low in May.
These numbers periodically appeared in the Western outlets such as The Guardian. There was a criticism of Saudi-led bombing campaign at times when the American and British-produced bombs were resulting in especially grotesque massacres. Yet, the general line produced by the media was silence and compliance, compliance with Saudi-blockade, compliance with the coalition bombing of civilian infrastructure including factories, schools, road and vital ports for food imports. Almost unmentioned was the fact that Americans and British have not only provided the Saudis with an abundance of bombs but also intelligence and guidance, helping the coalition to conduct thousands of airstrikes.
No lights went off on the Eiffel Tower in show of solidarity with the Yemeni people, a contrast from ludicrous empathy shown to the “rebel” Jihadi groups when the Syrian Army had pushed them from the city of Aleppo in Syria. This is when the lives of civilians trapped in the occupied by fanatics areas did matter and their liberation was condemned as subjugation. If this was ludicrous enough, then Yemen presents a full new spectrum of worthy and unworthy civilians with legitimate and illegitimate fighting elements.
The full power of Saudi coalition, allied with intelligence, weaponry supply and diplomatic cover from the West was unleashed against the Houthi fighters who control much of Yemen’s West, including the capital Sanaa. Born as a movement in the north to protect the Shia Islam which is practiced by 30-40% of Yemen’s population, Houthis were in conflict with the government since 2004. Even back then, the Saudis had shown their interference tendencies by providing support to Yemeni army, through bombing campaigns, to fight the Houthis in the Northern governorate of Saada. Successful guerrilla tactics and knowledge of mountainous environment helped Houthis to maintain their resistance.
When Sanaa fell to the Houthis in September 2014, the serving President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi had resigned before going to his home-province Aden where he reaffirmed himself as president of the country. The nationalist agenda of Houthis for sovereignty of Yemen from the outside (mainly Saudi) influence, had granted them greater support from Sunni population and loyalty from factions of the Yemeni army and the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, which yielded rebels an abundance of military gear.
This alliance still affirms the survival of Houthis amidst the international community’s unquestioned aim of restoring Hadi’s presidency.
Invalidating Hadi’s marionette status to Saudi Arabia is impossible, as he lacks any sovereignty of influencing the situation on the ground. The pro-Hadi forces who include Saudi military, the international poorly trained mercenaries and local militants, are all on the support-line of Riyadh. “Al Qaeda” has openly declared that it fights along the ranks of these “militants.” Such claim met a wall of silence from the mainstream American media, a country which suggests to be fighting Al Qaeda with increased pointless, and often destructive bombardment by drones.
Yet, Houthis were the ones whose legitimacy and autonomy from the outside influence was questioned. In the Western media, they are known as proxies of Iran, who supplies them weapons and aims at destabilizing the power of Saudi Arabia. In fact, preventing the flow of Iranian weapons on the “fishing boats” to Houthis was a justifying factor for unleashing the barbaric and famine-creating blockade. Of course, the measure produced little if any results because of the absence of such vessels, while the few that were detained had come from Somalia.
The blockade, however, did produce results – devastating results. A whole nation of 28 million, with proud and centuries-old history, was locked into a virtual prison, where American and coalition planes are striking with impunity, and the death toll is scarcely reported.
Underestimation and Silence
Little information is coming about the true extent of the war in Yemen. The death toll is rarely updated and undoubtedly underestimated. The tendencies are no different from the pro-American coalition organizations in Syria and Iraq who report as little as 5% of the civilian casualties from the airstrikes. And this combines with the general wall of silence from the widely-viewed media sources in the West.
The humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, declared back in August of 2016, that the death toll from the war could be exceeding 10,000. This was the figure 18 months into the conflict. McGoldrick also pointed to the lack of medical facilities, which means people often bury the dead without any official record being taken. At that point, other estimates of the death toll varied between 4,000 and 6,000. Reliefweb quotes WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic: “More than half of all health facilities are closed or functioning only partially.” How many people are not receiving treatment because of this? How many are buried without any record? Over 26 months into the war, blockade and bombardment, the World Health Organization still maintains the death toll at 8,010. This is lower than the death toll presented 18 months into the conflict by the United Nations. This death toll seems to exclude the fatalities from preventable diseases and the recent cholera epidemic, which already claimed well over 300 lives. Never mind the UNICEF estimates from 2016 of a child dying every 10 minutes from preventable diseases and malnutrition. This is, to be exact, 52,560 children. How many of them had vanished amidst the conditions created by the war?
None of these facts were critically addressed or questioned in the Western media. The BBC Our World programme, “Starving Yemen”, was one of the most visual reports about the ground situation in the country. Still, the 23 minute and 22 seconds report, with shocking images of malnourished children and a country visibly on the brink of starvation, had allocated less than 40 seconds to mention the Saudi naval blockade. In those 40 seconds, the nature of the blockade was diffused with a restatement of claims from the coalition about them “providing significant humanitarian assistance to Yemen.” The aim of blockade was emphasized as measure “stopping the Houthis and their allies from rearming.”
Other reports followed a similar narrative, and all have successfully created the theme of blockade being a natural and relatively justifiable measure to counter the armament of Houthi proxies by Iran.
The diplomatic cover, given to the Saudis by the West, is implemented through the lack of reports on Yemen from the mainstream corporate media. The press, 90% of which is controlled by only 6 corporations, is an unprecedented beacon of information, with overwhelming reach. Overall silence and lack of interest from the mainstream on Yemen, greenlights the continuation of unchallenged destruction and war crimes. To put the reporting on Yemen in perspective, there were constant updates coming from the corporate media on the alleged chemical attack earlier this spring in Syria, which normalized the 48-hour response – without investigation – for Trump administration to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Shayrat Airbase. At that time, civilian lives did matter to the corporate press, specifically those in Khan Shaykhun. Has there been such an overwhelming apathy to the thousands of people who are starving to death in Yemen? They apparently don’t worth the news.
The Empire’s Perpetual War and Chaos
The future of Yemen looks similar to the reality of other Middle Eastern nations who declined into a perpetual state of conflict. Partition of Yemen, into the former colonial borders, looks imminent unless the coalition will completely obliteration the Houthis, something they are currently pursuing.
Besides the war on Houthis, there is an increasingly hypocritical war on terrorism. The new administration in Washington had increased the use of drones to counter Al Qaeda, the group which claims to be fighting alongside the militants who receive support from the American’s client in Riyadh. There are also pockets of Islamic State extremists. All these factions combat Houthis as a common enemy, while the support extremist gain from the Saudis, signals a continuous potential of the country to be used as discharging ground for the American bombing missions. Little is mentioned about Houthis being a successful fighting forces against the extremists. The United States itself had conducted strikes on Houthis for an alleged missile launch at the U.S. navy ship. The true enemies of the coalition and the U.S. are obvious, while the Al Qaeda and ISIS will be left to perpetuate the profitable chaos after the defeat of Houthis.
Profitable war for the Empire and its clients is the emblem for indifference and silence to the destruction of Yemen. Donald Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia signified a new $109.7 billion arms deal, the biggest sale of weapons to the theocratic and autocratic kingdom in history. Theresa May defended U.K’s arms sales by pointing to historic ties between the two nations. A commonly used defense of the multi-billion dollar arms industry was applied by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who stressed that other countries will “happily supply arms” to Saudi Arabia if Britain bans the sale of theirs.
In Riyadh, Donald Trump carpeted a path for an old imperial strategy of Washington D.C. Ones again the reality was flipped upside down in the theater of absurd. Deals were made without addressing any uncomfortable questions. The new shipments of arms will likely escalate the war and perpetuate denial of the brutal Saudi blockade. The fact that entire nation is slowly submerging into obeys because of the current policies, made no influence on multi-billion dollar contracts signed at Riyadh Summit. Same applies to the fight against terrorism. Amidst the overwhelming evidence suggesting Saudi Arabia be the biggest sponsor of terrorism, the true villain of the “civilized world”, according to Washington and Riyadh, is Iran. The only country in the world where women cannot drive and political prisoners are beheaded in the public, worth signing $380 billion of deals.
Business as usual continues, while the people of Yemen and other countries in the region are paying the price.
On the ground, the Saudi soldiers and their contractors are suffering heavy casualties. Houthis have been successful at holding their positions from the heavily equipped, yet poorly trained forces. In the end, Houthis are fighting for their country, while substantial ranks of pro-Hadi militias are dying for a distant Riyadh. The bankrolled mercenaries are the most vulnerable. Thousands of fighters from Africa and even Latin America were sent to fight on the coalition side. No reliable record is found concerning the casualties of these forces. The recent ambush of scores of poorly trained Sudanese fighters indicates that the numbers are most certainly excessive. Medieval blockade and indiscriminate airstrikes are the only successfully implemented actions of the Saudi venture in Yemen. Indeed if these murderous actions can be counted as “success.”
The destruction of Yemen is perhaps the greatest example of indifference today. Human right have no value to the Empire, and the intentional silence on Yemen reverberates this in the most cynical and hypocritical form.
The only way to cease the famine-creating blockade and light prospects of peace will be through stopping the cynical appeasement and sale of “our” weapons to the Saudi regime. Disillusionment of our voice through deceptions and intentional silence authorizes continuation of the crimes being committed under our name. The only way of combating this intentional silence is by breaking it.