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CWA # 122, 31 May 2019

Middle East
Why the world needs to look at Yemen

  Mahath Mangal

The symptoms of the war are the air strikes and the famine; the disease is the more significant conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia


Every 11 minutes and 54 seconds, a child dies in Yemen due to preventable diseases. A Saudi-led coalition is conducting airstrikes in Yemen to contain the Houthi rebellion. A hospital in Sanaa was bombed recently killing five and leaving dozens injured. Famine, lack of medical aid, and an outbreak of Cholera are some of the effects of the fighting, threatening the lives of almost 70% of the Yemeni population.

Is it a simple civil war?
A late effect of the Arab Spring in 2011, fighting in Yemen began in 2015. Since then, the conflict has raged on, and by the end of 2019, the death toll will be as much as 230,000 according to a UN report. Sadly, the world is not paying enough attention to what has become one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent times. 

The Middle East is currently one of the most volatile regions in the world. The major players in the region are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – a Sunni Muslim state, and Iran – governed by the Shia Muslims. While the conflict between these two countries has been on for some time, Yemen is the latest stage to a proxy war. 

The conflict in Yemen is between the loyalists of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi Shia Muslim rebels. With the rebels capturing the capital city of Sanaa and the President forced to flee abroad, Saudi Arabia extended support to curb the rebels with military aid and Iran, in turn, supported the rising Houthi rebels. A blockade of Yemen cut off global supply leaving the population of Yemen short of resources and in famine.

A US-funded coup in Iran and the subsequent Iran Revolution in 1979 instilled fears in Saudi Arabia that the Saudis would also rise up against their rulers. This made Saudi Arabia apprehensive of Iran and has since adopted a policy to curb the country's influence. With Saudi Arabia trying to maintain the status quo, Iran has always tried to upset it by supporting rebel factions against the establishments. Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are all stages for the Cold War in the Middle East as KSA and Iran have never to date, declared war on each other.

The Saudi-led intervention code-named Operation Decisive Storm includes Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the UK, and the USA. Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia have provided airspaces, territorial waters and military bases in aid for the operation. In spite of such an extensive involvement from the international community, ironically causing an escalation in the number of deaths, it is further destabilizing the region which already has four failed states and three wars.

To give an idea about the current wave of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, since 26 March 2015, they have conducted 19,000 strikes on the poorest country in the region – Yemen.     
A peace agreement between the fighting factions was brokered in December 2018, while it was effective in a ceasefire in the port of Hodeidah, the significant effect was that it relocated the fighting to other places. Even today, the airstrikes continue and civilian structures like houses, hospitals, and warehouses. A hospital set up by the international medical Non-Governmental Organization Médecins Sans Frontières was bombed leaving bodies behind. The US-manufactured shrapnel bomb has tied the civilian deaths to Washington. This has not deterred the US as President Trump approved an 8bn USD deal with Saudi, declaring an emergency and thereby circumventing Congress' approval and authority in sale of arms.

The US continues to extend support through aerial refuelling and providing search and rescue of coalition pilots shot down by Iran backed rebels. This is also a reason and effect of the rising US-Iran tensions and the nuclear deal. While the conflict remains, international aid is hard to reach, and the world media's coverage is disproportionate to the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 

Is there a Future?

The US being a key player and taking into consideration recent deployment of more US troops into the region, it must instead exercise any leverage it holds over Saudi and help resolve the conflict with Iran through deliberation. The world needs to identify the increasingly frequent clashes between the KSA and Iran in the region. The recent developments regarding US-Iran Nuclear deal have put more pressure on Tehran. It might lead to a further escalation of the fighting in Yemen, where two weeks back, in a positive development the Houthi rebels had agreed to pull out of three major Red Sea ports to facilitate UN aid.

The symptoms of the war are the air strikes and the outbreak of Cholera; the disease is the more significant conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The rebels and Hadi loyalists could reach an agreement facilitated by the international organization like the UN, the Arab League, and the GCC, but none of it would be useful without the active cooperation of Iran and the KSA. The world needs to wash away its apathy toward the massive human rights violation in Yemen and push the international community to find a solution expeditiously.
 

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