Our government has no qualms about backing the latest slaughter in Yemen, writes IAN SINCLAIR
ON March 25 2015 a Saudi Arabian-led coalition began bombing the Gulf state of Yemen. According to Saudi Arabia the intervention was in support of the US and Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who had been overthrown by supposedly Iranian-backed Houthi rebels allied to Hadi’s predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was also backed by the US.
The Saudi bombing campaign has been relentless and largely indiscriminate. A joint statement by 18 scholars noted that “the targets of the campaign include schools, homes, refugee camps, water systems, grain stores and food industries.” In May, CNN noted that “the Saudi Press Agency reported that the latest attack against Houthi rebels in Yemen — 130 air strikes in a 24-hour period — included the targeting of schools and hospitals.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 3,000 people have been killed and 14,300 wounded so far. More than one million people have been forced to flee their homes.
Back in April the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Yemen was “on the verge of total collapse.” By June matters had got much worse, with 20 million Yemenis — nearly 80 per cent of the population — in urgent need of food, water and medical aid.
According to a superb report in the Guardian by Julian Borger it was “a humanitarian disaster that aid agencies say has been dramatically worsened by a naval blockade” imposed by the Saudi-led coalition.
“The blockade means it’s impossible to bring anything into the country,” said Oxfam’s humanitarian programme manager in the capital Sanaa. “The situation is deteriorating, hospitals are now shutting down, without diesel.”
Save the Children’s Yemen director said: “Children are dying preventable deaths in Yemen because the rate of infectious diseases is rising.” Cholera is on the rise and a dengue fever outbreak has been reported in the port city of Aden.
What has been Britain’s response to this man-made disaster? Government statements about fighting terrorism and promoting democracy and human rights lead one to expect that it would line up against Saudi Arabia.
Instead, Britain is backing the Saudis as they batter Yemen. “We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in April. In practice, this means “political support, of course, logistical and technical support.”
This follows huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia, making the fundamentalist state Britain’s largest customer for weapons.
This means “British-made Typhoon fighter jets scream through Yemen’s skies, flown by British-trained Saudi pilots, dropping British-made bombs on the poorest country in the region,” explained Bahrain Watch’s John Horne.
The US is also backing the attack, providing logistical and intelligence support. US planners are “using live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen to help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb,” the Wall Street Journal reported in March.
Borger notes that the brutal blockade is backed by Britain and the US. However, “Washington and London have quietly tried to persuade the Saudis … to moderate their tactics, and in in particular to ease the blockade.”
What other nation responsible for such mass slaughter receives a quiet word in the ear rather than outraged public denunciations? With the UN declaring its highest-level of humanitarian emergency in Yemen earlier this month, the two countries’ gentle prodding have clearly had little effect.
The UN says 21.1 million people need aid, with 13 million desperately short of food and 9.4 million with no water.
Coupled with the likely use of British-made jets in the Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen in 2009, Britain’s current support for Saudi aggression is part of Britain’s broader strategy in the region. “With the US keen to reduce its military presence in the Gulf, the UK is preparing to fill the gap, restoring its former links, returning to ‘East of Suez’,” Guardian defence correspondent Richard Norton-Taylor argues.
The British government is only able to get away with enabling a humanitarian crisis of this size because the media has largely failed to adequately report on the crisis in Yemen. And when the media does cover the conflict Britain’s support for the death and destruction is rarely mentioned.
Dr Florian Zollmann, a media lecturer at Liverpool Hope University, has found a number of other disturbing patterns.
Analysing how the US and British press reports the conflict in Yemen, Zollmann notes that “the Anglo-American news media has largely failed to investigate the legality of the intervention” or the fact “Saudi Arabia hardly constitutes a benevolent and stabilising force.”
Faced with a de facto media blackout of the role of Britain and US in the Saudi attack on Yemen, it is important progressives who are aware of the reality shout about it as loudly as possible. Ultimately it is only public pressure that can halt British support for the bombing and push the government to urge the UN security council to demand an immediate ceasefire and negotiations to resolve the conflict.
Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair.