Three days before the Saudi led air force began its bombing of the Republic of Yemen on Thursday 26th March, the British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond was in the Saudi capital, Riyadh meeting with his host’s foreign secretary, Prince Saud al-Faisal on Monday 23rd March 2015.
In their joint press conference after their meeting, the British foreign Secretary declared that “no one wanted to see military action in Yemen.” This was echoed by his Saudi counterpart who stressed the need for a “peaceful solution” to the situation in Yemen.
The situation in Yemen changed dramatically when a Northern militia group, Ansar Allah (“Houthis”), had taken control of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a in September 2014. After four months of intermittent agreements, resignations and re-appointments the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) approved President of Yemen, Abd ar-Rubbuh Mansour Hadi eventually fled the capital and sought refuge in Yemen’s second city, Aden. Hitherto, the Houthis seemed content with their presence in the Northern areas of the country, but suicide bombings in two mosques in Sana’a on Friday 20th March seemed to have triggered a change in the equation. Furthermore, with Hadi in Aden, the GCC countries had led the move to close their embassies in Sana’a and operate out of their consulates in Aden. This move was clearly aimed at isolating the Houthis. Caught in the middle of all this, is the Southern Yemeni movement for independence, the Hirak, which has been active since 2007.
Although Yemen has been united since 1990 there have always been groupings in the South who never came to terms with this unification. This ultimately culminated in a civil war between the North and South in 1994 which led to a Northern victory largely because the North used returned jihadis (Arab-Afghans) from the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. Ironically, Hadi also supported the North in this civil war.
No sooner had the Saudi led, GCC bombing campaign began than Mr. Hammond was briefing reporters on Friday 27th March from Washington that Great Britain supports the Saudi military intervention, “in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” He confirmed that the British are ‘not directly’ (my emphasis) involved. However, this could change because the UK has a “long-standing relationship with the Saudi armed forces, particularly the Royal Saudi Air Force.” He acknowledged that the Saudis were bombing Yemen with British built aircraft and the British have “significant infrastructure supporting the Saudi air force.”
Within the space of five days the British foreign secretary sojourned from advocating military restraint to declaring Great Britain was shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi theocratic dictatorship’s aggression against Yemen under the pretext of restoring the so-called “legitimate” President of Yemen, Hadi, to office who has now escaped the fighting in Aden and fled to Riyadh.
Also on Friday 27th, the Times of London editorialised that it was important for the United States to support the Saudi offensive because it needed “to reassure the Sunni world that it is not selling out to the Iranian regime, then it must be firm in its support of the Saudi offensive.” The Guardian too, in its editorial, several days later claimed that it is the USA-Iranian rapprochement which is bearing heavily on the new King of Saudi Arabia’s decision to bomb Yemen, “Sunni anxiety over the possibility of an Iran-US rapprochement has prompted the new Saudi King, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud– whose dynasty casts itself as the historic protector of Sunni faith – to assert greater regional clout, through military action in Yemen.” Since when did the al-Saud dynasty cast itself as the historic protectors of the Sunni faith, the Guardian does not elaborate, but it may have been since the British Empire stumbled across the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud in the Arabian desert in need of British weapons just over a hundred years ago.
This is clearly the UK’s latest intervention in Yemen but this time it is allowing the venal Saudi theocratic state to ostensibly take the lead. Whereas in the past, British military operations in Yemen were far more imperially audacious. For example, in North Yemen in the 1960’s it was the British which co-ordinated Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Shah’s Iran in utilising indigenous so-called “Yemeni royalists” against Egyptian backed republicans after the latter had overthrown the then medieval dictator, the Imam Muhammad al-Badr. The purpose of that intervention (or “deniable undercover operation” as one writer categorises it)[i] was to stretch President of Egypt, Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s military resources and in the words of one British imperialist to give him a “bloody nose.”[ii] It was here in the mountains of North Yemen that the British revivied and re-introduced the use of mercenaries in the modern world after a 200 year absence. One could argue that there would never have been a Blackwater, Aegis Defence or any other mercenary company operating today had it not been for British involvement in North Yemen in the 1960’s.
Also in the 1960’s, British imperialists were unsuccessfully facing down a revolutionary war for liberation in South Yemen which finally achieved independence in 1967 after almost 130 years of British colonial rule. However, the British were not finished with South Yemen. In the 1970’s, when British imperialism was waging an anti-revolutionary war in Oman, predominately in the western province of Dhaffar, the British dropped more bombs on South Yemen in the 1970’s than it did in the entire Falklands War in 1982.
Much has been made of the supposed and tenuous relationship between the ‘Ansar Allah’ militia and Iran but nothing, as Hammond acknowledged, of the Saudi Arabian, British supplied weapons currently raining down on Yemen.
The British “long-standing relationship”, Hammond speak so fondly of, with the Saudi military is without doubt a reference to the corrupt so-called al-Yamamah (Dove) arms deals that have furnished billions of pounds sterling on the British military industrial complex. Actually it would not be far-fetched to argue that without the Saudi Arabian and other GCC country purchase of military hardware there would not be much of a British military industrial complex. Yemen is currently being bombed with the fruits of British-Saudi venality laced by and with the hypocrisy of Prince Charles, the next in line to the British crown.
There are also many absurd scenarios playing out in Yemen at the moment, but I’ll highlight the three major ones. Firstly, we are witnessing Saudi Arabia one of the richest countries in the world bombing Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world. What makes this intervention more gallingly cruel is that Saudi Arabia has literally managed to do next to nothing when Israel has military pulverised Palestinians over the last half century and more. In the Zionist entity’s latest attack on Gaza they killed over 2100 Palestinians including over 500 children and over 250 women. Saudi Arabia and the GCC didn’t raise a sqeak.
Secondly, is the absurd alliance between the Houthis and ex-President of Yemen, Ali Abdulla Saleh. Saleh dictatorially ruled the country for over 30 years. He is known for plundering the country jointly with the al-Ahmar clan, headed by the late Abdulla al-Ahmar. In 2004, his government began the first of many intermittent wars against the Houthis which lasted over six years. In one of these wars the leader of the current leader of the Houthis was killed. Many find it unfathomable that the Houthis, if they are intend to rid the country of corruption and fraud, would align with the former dictator. Their expansion and aggression in Aden is seen in this light. This is why the Houthis are seen as just another Northern militia to be resisted by Southerners.
Finally, there is the absurdity of many, if not most, amongst the Southern separatist movement, Hirak, cheering on the Saudi military intervention. Obviously, the whole point of the Saudi bombing is to preserve its geo-political interests. It cannot afford to have a movement perceived friendly to Iran ruling its southern neighbour. Yet, many Southerners seem to be translating the Saudi intervention as support for their cause. All Yemenis, Northerners or Southerners, know that Saudi Arabia has no interest in a secure, democratic and prosperous Yemen. The GCC want a Yemen governed in accordance with its interests and not Yemen’s people. Needless to say all the GCC countries are dictatorships so its very unlikely that allowing Yemeni people a say in their affairs will be highly prioritised during the bombing campaign.
The greatest harbingers of Islamist terrorism in the modern world today, is Saudi Arabia by virtue of the indisputable fact that the Saudi state religion, the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, is the wellspring of al-Qaeda and ISIS (Da’esh). The notion that the Saudis have any other interest, in Yemen other than to impose its nihilistic creed on all Yemenis, Northerners and Southerners, is the height of self-delusion.
When Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder and creator of modern Saudi Arabia recaptured Riyadh, the ancestral capital of his clan, in 1902 with weapons supplied by the British imperialists, the residents were treated to a reign of terror unheard of in the Arabian peninsula:
“His first merciless act was to terrorise the population by spiking the heads of his enemies and displaying them at the gates of the city. His followers burned 1200 people to death. When conducting a raid, he and his followers were very much in the habit of taking young maidens back to enslave them or make gifts of them to friends. That is how Ibn Saud and his people lived at the turn of the century, before he became king and when he was a mere head of a large tribe.”[iii]
Most people are now familiar with such barbaric acts because of the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. And soon, possibly, Yemen.
More so, if the Saudis lead ground troops in a land invasion of Yemen then they will no doubt come into a de facto alliance with al-Qaeda and ISIS, while at the same time utilising the southern separatist forces. Also, as this would be the first time the Saudis employs its official soldiers, it would not be a surprise if, at the very least, British military advisors or military contractors lead or embed themselves with Saudi battalions. It took British imperialism three years (1936-1939) to teach Zionist forces how to oppress and occupy Palestine. The British establishment is currently tied up with a general election so any actual consideration of ‘direct’ involvement would not materialise until after the election.
In conclusion, if the British backed Saudi Arabian war on Yemen progresses further then all Yemenis should expect more barbarism from the House of Saud and expect a massive refugee situation similar to the ones in Libya and Syria where gangs and thugs of the Saudi Wahhabi ideology are murderously running rampant not only over people but thousands of years of traditions.
[i] Duff Hart-Davis, The War that Never Was, (London: Arrow Books, 2012), pg.12
[ii] Paul Dresch, A History of Modern Yemen, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) pg. 91
[iii] Said Aburish, “The Rise, corruption and coming fall of the House of Saud”, (London: Bloomsbury, 1994), pg.14