The Saudi-led war on Yemen has now gone on for more than 42 months. The so-called Arabian coalition that the Saudis had assembled to subdue Yemen has all but melted away with the exception of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sudan and Jordan abandoned the war and have slunk away. Others such as Pakistan and Egypt had more sense not to get involved at all. The Saudis are now relying increasingly on the US and Britain for air refueling, target selection, and logistical support.
They have also turned to mercenaries from South America and Africa to prosecute the ground war. There are mercenaries from Colombia and Senegal as well as Blackwater operatives. Additionally, the Saudis are relying increasingly on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to help them fight the Ansarallah fighters.
After three and a half years of a relentless bombing campaign, the Saudis are nowhere near achieving any of their military or political objectives. The war has exposed Saudi incompetence on a grand scale even if they have caused massive civilian casualties and inflicted immense infrastructure damage.
Let us first consider what their military and political objectives were. The Saudis launched their war on March 26, 2015. The announcement was made not in Riyadh but in Washington, DC. ‘Adil al-Jubayr who served as Saudi ambassador to the US at the time and is rumored to be gay, made the announcement at the Kingdom’s embassy in Washington, DC. This was a clear signal that the war had America’s blessings (al-Jubayr currently serves as Saudi foreign minister while Khalid bin Salman, the king’s young son, is ambassador to the court of King Donald Trump!).
The Saudis thought they would easily and quickly crush the Houthi-backed Ansarallah fighters — who had liberated Sana‘a, the Yemeni capital — and reinstall their puppet ‘Abd Rabbu Manßur Hadi. He had already fled the capital and sought refuge in Riyadh. Hadi was installed in power after the Saudis forced the former long-time president ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih to resign. Salih was summoned to Riyadh in February 2012 and ordered by then Saudi King ‘Abdullah to sign a paper confirming his resignation (Salih was killed in a Saudi air strike last year).
The Saudis have made a habit of summoning foreign rulers to Riyadh and ordering them to resign. The latest example of this was the Lebanese Prime Minister Sa‘d Hariri who underwent a similar experience in November 2017 only to reappear in Beirut via France saying he was withdrawing his resignation.
Salih’s February 2012 resignation, however, did not improve the situation in Yemen as far as the Saudis are concerned. With the Ansarallah fighters making steady gains against Hadi’s forces and taking over Sana‘a in 2014 (that they still control), the Saudis were forced to get involved directly. This occurred soon after King ‘Abdullah died and was succeeded by half-brother, Salman in January 2015.
Salman immediately appointed his young and reckless son Muhammad as defence minister and also gave him charge of court affairs (court secretary controlling access to the king). Muhammad bin Salman (MbS as he is commonly known) thought he would establish his credentials as a warrior prince by attacking dirt-poor Yemen, which he thought he would subdue in a matter of weeks, if not sooner.
While the old King Salman concentrated more and more power in the hands of his impetuous son, first making him deputy crown prince and then elevating him to the position of crown prince, he also made him in charge of Aramco and the Kingdom’s overall economic policy. Bin Salman has made a mess of everything. Apart from making grandiose pronouncements, he has achieved little of substance. The economy is not doing too well; foreign workers have been forced to leave and the war on Yemen has gone nowhere even if it has resulted in the killing of thousands of innocent people as well as the starvation of millions of others.
Here are some grim statistics about Yemen that are the direct result of the Saudi-led war. Since the Saudis and their allies have imposed a tight siege on Yemen preventing food and desperately needed medicines, a cholera epidemic rages in the country that the UN has called the worst epidemic in history. More than one million children are affected. On September 18, the British charity, Save the Children said at least 5.2 million Yemeni children faced starvation as a result of Saudi attacks on Hudaydah, the only entry point for food into the country that is not controlled by Saudi allied forces.
So far more than 13,000 Yemenis, mostly civilians, have been killed and several hundred thousand injured. The UN estimates that 22.3 million of Yemen’s 24 million people are food deficient and on the verge of starvation, “The conflict has made Yemen a living hell for its children,” Meritxell Relano, Unicef Representative in Yemen, said on September 13. She further revealed that more than 11 million children, or about 80% of the country’s population under the age of 18, were facing the threat of food shortages, disease, displacement, and acute lack of access to basic social services.
“An estimated 1.8 million children are malnourished in the country. Nearly 400,000 of them are severely acute malnourished and they are fighting for their lives every day,” said Ms. Relano.
Frustrated by lack of progress on the military front, the Saudis have resorted to indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas. Factories, hospitals, schools, markets, and homes have been bombed and destroyed. Even funeral processions have not been spared. And in a more recent outrage, on August 9, the Saudis fired a missile at a school bus killing 40 children instantly and injuring many others in Yemen’s northern Sadaa province.
Most Saudi attacks constitute war crimes and Bin Salman could be hauled before a war crimes tribunal to face war crime charges one day. As the Kingdom’s defence minister and de facto ruler, he is personally and directly responsible for such crimes.
As a result of Saudi war crimes, several European countries have cancelled weapons contracts with the Saudis. These include Sweden, Germany, and Norway. They have all said they would not supply weapons to a regime that may be committing war crimes. Still, other major arms suppliers like the US, Britain, and France continue to sell weapons to the Bedouins.
Even two-bit player Canada is in on the act and is supplying $15 billion worth of weapons. The deal was signed by the former Conservative regime of Stephen Harper in 2014 but the “sunny ways” Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has not seen fit to cancel the deal despite growing calls within Canada to do so. There have been protests in different cities demanding cancellation of the deal. The most recent one was held on September 8 outside the Toronto constituency office of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. Canadian media outlets have also carried detailed reports about the Kingdom’s gross human rights abuses.
So far Ottawa has not canceled the arms deal even though the Bedouins reacted angrily to a tweet from Ms. Freeland that was mildly critical of Saudi mistreatment of female human rights activists. The Bedouins thought they would make an example of Canada seeing it as a soft target. This was an opportunity for Canada to stand up for its principles but it failed.
Such failure will cost Canada dearly. The Saudis have failed to win the war in Yemen; the regime is facing internal opposition and its economy is rapidly declining. These are signs of an impending collapse.