Yemen – US falters, Britain stops its ears
The Yemeni armed forces and their popular auxiliaries have now for six years stood firm against the US-backed and Saudi-led genocidal war against the Yemeni people. The national liberation forces, organised around the popular Ansarullah movement, have prevented every attempt to restore the Riyadh-backed puppet government of Mansour Hadi to power. In their courageous struggle for independence, the Yemeni people have suffered saturation bombing, economic blockade and piratical attacks on Yemeni ships, but have fought back with bravery and ingenuity. Now it seems that this steadfast resistance is making the US have second thoughts about too closely associating itself with Riyadh’s always bloody and now failing enterprise.
If imperialism could win wars by the simple expedient of endlessly multiplying the civilian death toll, wiping out the country’s infrastructure, imposing a blockade preventing the import of food, medicines and oil and exposing the population to starvation, covid and cholera, then imperialism would never lose a war. All this and more has been done against Yemen, whilst for years the war has been ignored or misrepresented by the western media. But the indomitable resistance of the Yemenis now threatens to be the rock on which imperialism breaks its back.
In a parting twitter blast from Trump, the patriotic Ansarullah movement, popularly known as the Houthis, was ludicrously declared to be a ‘terrorist’ organisation. However, Trump’s parting shot was uttered in an impotent fit of pique at the continuing failure of the US to shore up its erstwhile hegemony in the Middle East. His successor, Joe Biden, taking a more sober look at the facts on the ground, has decided that it is time to distance the US from a war that is so clearly being lost and is so clearly criminal in character. It is because of the resistance that the war crimes being committed daily against the Yemeni people are finally breaking through the wall of silence imposed by the imperialist media, putting pressure on the White House to distance itself from the war.
It was the Obama/Biden administration which led the US into supporting Riyadh’s war in 2015 in the first place, so it’s appropriate that it should be the Biden presidency which should wind up with the job of clearing up the mess. In his first pronouncement on foreign policy since becoming president, Biden pledged to stop US support for Riyadh’s offensive actions in Yemen. He also reversed Trump’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organisation.
It should be noted that there are caveats to the Biden climbdown. The verbot applies only to “offensive” weapons, leaving so-called defensive weapons off the hook. And the export ban applies only to weapons which are intended for direct use in the Yemen war. Nevertheless the selective arms ban and the reversal of the ‘terrorist’ branding of Ansarullah are clear signs that the US is looking for the exit.
The credit for this reversal of US policy must be attributed to the unflagging resistance struggle, waged both within Yemen and also directly against Saudi Arabia. The liberation forces have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to bring the war back home against the Kingdom’s vulnerable oil installations, and in recent days Yemeni troops and allied fighters from the popular committees have concentrated their fire on Saudi airports, regularly used as military bases. They launched retaliatory missile strikes on the King Khalid airbase in the southwestern region of Asir and on another airport in Makkah region. Patriots used domestically manufactured Sammad-3 and Qasef-2K combat drones to hit two airports in Jeddah, forcing the suspension of flights for a number of hours.
Meanwhile in Yemen itself air defences successfully shot down a Saudi CH-4 combat drone flying over the central province of Ma’rib and Yemeni troops and their allies captured the strategic Koufel military base in Ma’rib, a significant bolthole for Hadi loyalists, who took major losses. Ma’rib is the site of the only major oil reserves in the north of the country. Heavy fighting was reported between Yemeni forces and Hadi loyalists in Sirwah district. Saudi Arabia is learning afresh the lesson that wars cannot be won by murderous aerial bombardment alone, and Riyadh’s paid mercenaries are no match for Yemen’s patriots on the ground.
The UK government has, for the moment anyway, flatly refused to follow Biden’s lead. The Foreign Office minister, James Cleverly, insisted that arms sales licences were all done by the book, bragging that “The decisions the US takes on matters of arms sales are decisions for the US. The UK takes its own arms export responsibilities very seriously, and we continue to assess all arms export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria” (Patrick Wintour, ‘UK declines to follow US in suspending Saudi arms sales over Yemen’, The Guardian, 8 February 2021).
This curious departure from the usual role of US lapdog has alarmed many, including the Tory chair of the parliamentary defence committee, Tobias Ellwood, who urged the government “to align itself fully with its closest security ally and end similar arms exports connected to the war”. Welcoming the US “reset”, he warned that this issue “poses our first big test as to what global Britain means in practice” (ibid.).
However, such worries about Britain’s global reputation (should it remain hitched to Riyadh’s genocidal war chariot after its “closest security ally” has quit the field), are tempered by concerns about the black hole left in the British economy if arms sales to the Saudis should cease. As Cleverly was quick to point out, Saudi Arabia accounted for 40% of the volume of UK arms exports between 2010 and 2019.
“Britain authorised the export of £1.4 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia in three months after resuming sales last year.
“The published value of arms licensed for export to the Saudi-led coalition since bombing raids against Yemen’s Houthi rebels began in 2015 is £6.3 billion. Sales were suspended in 2019 when the Court of Appeal ruled that the government had failed to assess the risk of civilian casualties from indiscriminate bombing, as their own export criteria demanded.
“Sales resumed last July after ministers said that the Saudis were responsible only for ‘isolated incidents’ of civilian deaths. Licences that quarter rose to £1.39 billion, of which £1.36 billion was in the category that includes bombs” (Richard Spencer and Catherine Philp, ‘Yemen rebels attack Marib after President Biden softens stance’, The Times, 10 February 2021).
The six-year assault upon Yemen has been a bonanza for the arms manufacturers. All the shiny new toys in the world, however, will not save the skins of the rotten feudal sheikhdoms and their shameless imperialist masters.