So relentless has the violence convulsing the Middle East become that an attack on yet another Arab country and its descent into full-scale war barely registers in the rest of the world. That’s how it has been with the onslaught on impoverished Yemen by western-backed Saudi Arabia and a string of other Gulf dictatorships.
Barely two weeks into their bombardment from air and sea, more than 500 have been killed and the Red Cross is warning of a “catastrophe” in the port of Aden. Where half a century ago Yemenis were tortured and killed by British colonial troops, Houthi rebels from the north are now fighting Saudi-backed forces loyal to the ousted President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Up to 40 civilians sheltering at a UN refugee camp in the poorest country in the Arab world were killed in a single Saudi air attack last week.
But of course the US and Britain are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi intervention. Already providing “logistical and intelligence” support via a “joint planning cell”, the US this week announced it is stepping up weapons deliveriesto the Saudis. Britain’s foreign secretary, Phillip Hammond, has promised to “support the Saudi operation in every way we can”.
The pretext for the Saudi war is that Yemen’s Houthi fighters are supported by Iran and loyal to a Shia branch of Islam. Hadi, who was installed after a popular uprising as part of a Saudi-orchestrated deal and one-man election in 2012, is said to be the legitimate president with every right to call on international support.
In reality, Iran’s backing for the homegrown Houthis seems to be modest, and their Zaidi strand of Islam is a sort of halfway house between Sunni and Shia. Hadi’s term as transitional president expired last year, and he resigned in January before fleeing the country after the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital Sana’a. Compare Hadi’s treatment with the fully elected former president of Ukraine, whose flight from Kiev to another part of the country a year ago was considered by the western powers to have somehow legitimized his overthrow, and it’s clear how elastic these things can be.
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