A Ceasefire in Yemen after Seven Years: Are US‐​Backed Saudi/​Emirati Aggression and War Crimes Finally Over?

“After years of attacks on civilians, the Saudis and Emiratis are guilty of manifold war crimes. The United Nations Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, subsequently disbanded under Saudi pressure, last fall described the horror: “Since March 2015, over 23,000 airstrikes have been launched by the coalition in Yemen, killing or injuring over 18,000 civilians. Living in a country subjected to an average of 10 airstrikes per day has left millions feeling far from safe.” Victims included “civilians shopping at markets, receiving care in hospitals, or attending weddings and funerals; children on buses; fishers in boats; migrants seeking a better life; individuals strolling through their neighborhoods; and people who were at home.”

Support for the royal aggressors made US officials into coconspirators. Reported the New York Times in September 2020: “The civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s disastrous air war over Yemen was steadily rising in 2016 when the State Department’s legal office in the Obama administration reached a startling conclusion: Top American officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners. Four years later, more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials say the legal risks have only grown as President Trump has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East nations a cornerstone of his foreign policy.””

“Last November the United Nations Development Programme estimated Yemen’s death toll at 377,000, 70 percent of whom were children under five. Indirect causes, especially malnutrition and disease, took the majority of lives.”

“despite Washington’s shameful backing for Saudi/Emirati aggression and attacks on civilians, the royal regimes appear to have tired of their endless wars. Indeed, Ansar Allah’s strikes on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, though limited in effect, seriously embarrassed both governments. The Emiratis were particularly vulnerable since further attacks on Dubai could wreck its role as a hub for commercial activity and air travel.
In a dramatic move, the Saudis forced Yemen’s nominal president, Hadi, to yield his authority, after spending seven years justifying war to restore him. Reported The Wall Street Journal: “Saudi authorities have largely confined him to his home in Riyadh and restricted communications with him in the days since, according to Saudi and Yemeni officials.” The Houthis dismissed the move and some analysts speculated that Riyadh hoped to unite factions opposed to Ansar Allah to better wage war. However, the move effectively cleared the deck for negotiations. Peter Salisbury of the International Crisis Group opined that this was the “most consequential shift in the inner workings of the anti‐Houthi bloc since war began.”

More significant — and generating more hope — is the two‐month ceasefire that began on April 2, the first day of Ramadan, a month of fasting and reflection for Muslims. For the first time in more than seven years, the royal air war against Yemeni civilians halted. If respected, the suspension of hostilities, which was announced by UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, could lead to a more durable settlement. Needed is a political compromise among Yemenis providing broad representation in a new government.

Still, any optimism must be tempered. Past ceasefires have collapsed and reaching agreement, especially given outside interference, will be difficult.”

Strikes on U.S. Troops Show the Need To Withdraw From Iraq and Syria

“Just days into 2022, multiple military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria came under attack. Two drones carrying explosives were destroyed last Tuesday as they headed toward U.S. troops in western Iraq. The next day, rockets and indirect fire hit bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria. And last Monday, two armed drones were shot down as they approached a facility housing American advisers at the airport in Baghdad.

Though there were no casualties, the Iran-backed militias behind the attacks have made clear that they will continue. That alone should encourage the Biden administration to get American soldiers out of harm’s way”

Israel and the Gulf States Are Becoming Closer. But It Won’t Make Biden’s Life Much Easier.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/12/16/israel-emirati-rapprochement-biden-middle-east-problem-524851

Biden Wants to Leave the Middle East, But He’s in a Vicious Bombing Cycle in Iraq

“Joe Biden is starting to do what every administration talks about but never manages to really do: Get U.S. forces out of the Middle East. His administration has removed Patriot missiles from the region, curtailed B-52 shows of force against Iran, and is preparing to bring home U.S. aircraft carriers after decades of dangerous Gulf deployments. In addition, of course, Biden is ending what he himself called the “forever war” in Afghanistan.

But if the goal is to reduce military involvement in the Middle East, then it should be alarming that the Biden administration has bombed Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria more times in the last three months than the Trump administration did in all of 2020. If the current exchange rate continued, we would expect a total of nearly 50 attacks on U.S. bases by militias with ties to Tehran, a handful of U.S. deaths, and half a dozen U.S. retaliatory strikes by the end of the year. On Monday and Tuesday, the United States hit back for the second and third times since Biden took office, striking militia targets in Iraq and Syria in response to increased drone and rocket attacks on U.S. troops in those two countries.”

” The dilemma for the White House is that it sees maintaining a small, focused counter-terrorism mission in Iraq and Syria as a worthwhile alternative to a full withdrawal, which would benefit adversaries like the Islamic State and Iranian hardliners. But Iran-backed groups will not stop attacking those outposts. Now, it seems the administration is caught in a vicious cycle of using small, pinprick strikes in an effort to deter the militias while avoiding escalation, but these half-measures achieve neither intended outcome. The Biden team needs to end the tit-for-tat cycle by hitting back smarter, harder and less openly.”

“The Biden team has been periodically hitting back at a time and place of its choosing, wisely separating provocation from retaliation in time. But the strikes have not been inventive or bold enough to affect the calculations of the militia leaders, instead hitting targets that just don’t matter. The administration seems fixated on sending clear and unambiguous deterrent messages that are anything but clear and unambiguous to Iran and her militias. This is because U.S. strikes are deliberately limited in order to avoid escalation — but this means they are too weak to deter. Each U.S. strike has been calibrated to roughly mirror the prior militia strike in destructiveness, but when 11 of every 12 militia attacks go unanswered, the cost exchange is still heavily in the group’s favor.”

“to reduce the risk of escalation, do not announce U.S. involvement. The U.S. was criticized by Iraq’s government for the recent strike inside Iraq, yet Iran and the militias it backs in Iraq were not criticized for their rocket and drone strikes because they do not openly claim such attacks. Israel has, for years, not claimed many of its deterrent strikes, which has given its enemies some leeway to ignore, prevaricate over or delay retaliation. Although unclaimed strikes will raise valid concerns about oversight and transparency, the U.S. government has procedures not only for undertaking strikes using Title 50 intelligence community and covert action authorities, but also for informing Congress of these actions in closed session.”

“Iran must understand that there is a cost to giving advanced drones to their militia proxies. Send messages to Iran’s security establishment — separately from the nuclear talks happening in Vienna — that the U.S. will match Iranian covert action with its own.”

China is buying Muslim leaders’ silence on the Uyghurs

“As the world increasingly speaks out against China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the quietest voices continue to belong to the leaders of Muslim-majority countries.
Look no further than Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s interview this week with Axios’s Jonathan Swan. Swan asked why the premier, who often speaks out on Islamophobia in the West, has been noticeably silent on the human rights atrocities happening just across his country’s border.

Khan parroted China’s denial that it has placed roughly 2 million Uyghurs in internment camps and then evaded the issue over and over again. “This is not the case, according to them,” Khan said, adding that any disagreements between Pakistan and China are hashed out privately.

That’s a jarring statement. Instead of offering a pro forma “Yes, of course we’re concerned by this” before moving on, Khan chose instead to minimize the problem altogether.

Why would Khan do such a thing during a high-profile interview, with his self-enhanced image as a defender of Muslims on the line? The prime minister gave the game away later in the interview: “China has been one of the greatest friends to us in our most difficult times, when we were really struggling,” Khan told Swan. “When our economy was struggling, China came to our rescue.”

China has given Pakistan billions in loans to prop up its economy, allowing the country to improve transit systems and a failing electrical grid, among other things. China didn’t do that out of the goodness of its heart; it did so partly to make Pakistan dependent on China, thus strong-arming it into a closer bilateral relationship.

It’s a play China has run over and over through its “Belt and Road Initiative.” China aims to build a large land-and-sea trading network connecting much of Asia to Europe, Africa, and beyond. To do that, it makes investment and loan deals with nations on that “road” — like Pakistan — so that they form part of the network. The trade, in effect, is that China increases its power and influence while other countries get the economic assistance they need.”

“”In 2019, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were among 37 countries that signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council praising China’s “contribution to the international human rights cause” — with claims that China restored “safety and security” after facing “terrorism, separatism and extremism” in Xinjiang…

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited China in 2019, he declared that “China has the right to take anti‐terrorism and de‐extremism measures to safeguard national security.” And a March 2019 statement by the Saudi‐based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) praised China for “providing care to its Muslim citizens.”””

“In 2009 — as Chinese authorities cracked down on Uyghurs amid ethnic violence in Xinjiang, and long before there were credible reports of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and forced labor — the Turkish leader spoke out about what was happening.

“The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There’s no point in interpreting this otherwise,” Erdoğan said.

ut now his tune has changed. In January, Turkish police broke up a protest led by local Uyghurs outside China’s consulate in Istanbul, and the government stands accused of extraditing Uyghurs to China in exchange for Covid-19 vaccines.

Why such a shift? You guessed it: Money.

The Turkish economy was in a downturn well before the coronavirus pandemic, but China has come to the rescue. Erdoğan and his team have sought billions from China in recent years, and China became the largest importer of Turkish goods in 2020. Saying anything negative about the Chinese government — especially on the Uyghur issue — could sever the financial lifeline China provides.

That said, the pressure from the pro-Uyghur public in Turkey has forced a slight shift in the Erdoğan regime’s rhetoric in recent months. In March, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his administration has brought up the plight of the Uyghurs in private discussions with Chinese officials.

Still, that falls far short of what the world should expect from Muslim leaders.”

“It is not a blockade”: US says Saudi Arabia isn’t to blame for Yemen’s fuel shortage

“Saudi Arabia, along with several other countries in the region that joined its war effort, has been fighting a war in Yemen since 2015. They’re fighting to oust the Houthis, a rebel group backed by Iran that had just overthrown Yemen’s internationally recognized government led by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Saudi-led coalition, which until recently was also supported by the US, wants to return Hadi, who currently lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, to power.

When Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war, they used military force to stop planes from landing and ships from docking in Yemen, saying such measures were necessary to stop the Houthis from smuggling in weapons, including from Iran.

But critics warned the blockade would keep much-needed food, fuel, medicine, and humanitarian aid from reaching desperate Yemenis, including millions of children, who are caught in the middle of the fighting.

That concern proved devastatingly prophetic.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, the world’s top authority on food security, said last year that 47,000 Yemenis were suffering from famine-like conditions and that more than 16 million — over half of Yemen’s population — couldn’t reliably and adequately feed themselves. United Nations agencies have said that at least 400,000 Yemeni children could die this year alone if conditions don’t improve.

What CNN found last month fit the years-long pattern: Saudi warships had kept all oil tankers from docking in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah since the start of the year.”

“It turns out the State Department disagrees with the growing narrative since the CNN report’s release.

“It is not a blockade,” a spokesperson for the agency said Monday. “Food is getting through, commodities are getting through, so it is not a blockade.”

However, the administration does acknowledge there has been a slowdown in the amount of fuel coming into the country, and they’re concerned about it. “The United States understands the urgent need for fuel to get into Hodeidah port,” Lenderking told me on Tuesday. “This is a constant priority in our conversations with the Republic of Yemen government and Saudi Arabia.”

But the primary culprit for the fuel slowdown, the State Department and the National Security Council contend, is not Saudi Arabia but rather the Hadi government.

Here’s why: Even though it doesn’t actually control the bulk of the country and is operating out of Saudi Arabia, it is still the legitimate, recognized government of Yemen and thus retains authority over who is allowed to dock in Yemen’s ports.

Which means that if the Hadi government doesn’t grant permission to a particular ship to dock in Hodeidah (or elsewhere), that ship can’t dock. The Saudi-led coalition enforces those decisions if necessary with its ships and planes, blocking any vessels Hadi’s government says can’t come in.

And that process of approving ships to dock is where the State Department says the real problem lies, leading to the fuel shortage.

The State Department said it opposes any arbitrary restrictions of commodities entering Yemen, but that “we respect the right of the government to control its access to ports.” However, the spokesperson added, “We do press them and work with them to make sure that their process improves and runs as smoothly as possible.””

“The Houthis are partly to blame here, too. Experts told me the rebels aren’t great about dispersing the fuel that is allowed to come off the ships. Sometimes they shut down gas stations so that the price of fuel they control on the black market goes up. So they are also responsible for why fuel isn’t getting to those who need it.”

“All three parties — the Hadi government, the Saudis, and the Houthis — are guilty of purposely using fuel, and access to it, as a weapon in this war.”

“the severe restrictions in fuel imports at Hodeidah aren’t happening out of pure malice, but they are happening on purpose. It’s part of an effort by the Hadi government and the Saudis to stop the Houthis from exploiting fuel revenues for their own benefit. The Hadi government “has declined to let them in [to Hodeidah] because of a long-running dispute with the Houthis over revenue payments,” the UN spokesperson told me.”