Millions Face Starvation in Yemen Due to Saudi Arabia’s Blockade
13 Movember, 2017
Two years ago, German intelligence warned the world of the unique risks Saudi Arabia posed to the region. I covered it at the time in the post, German Intelligence Warns – Saudi Arabia to Play “Destabilizing Role” in the Middle East.
Here’s an excerpt:
Saudi Arabia is at risk of becoming a major destabilizing influence in the Arab world, German intelligence has warned.
Internal power struggles and the desire to emerge as the leading Arab power threaten to make the key Western ally a source of instability, according to the BND intelligence service.
“The current cautious diplomatic stance of senior members of the Saudi royal family will be replaced by an impulsive intervention policy,” a BND memo widely distributed to the German press reads.
Saudi Arabia has previously been accused of supplying arms and funding to jihadist groups fighting in Syria, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
Saudi Arabia’s three-day-old blockade of entry points to Yemen threatens to plunge that war-ravaged country into a famine that could starve millions of people, the top relief official of the United Nations said Wednesday.
The country is struggling with an acute hunger crisis that has affected at least 17 million people, more than a third of them considered close to famine. Yemen also suffering a cholera scourge that has sickened nearly one million.
“Humanitarian supply lines to Yemen must remain open,” said Robert Mardini, the Red Cross’s regional director for the Near and Middle East. “Food, medicine and other essential supplies are critical for the survival of 27 million Yemenis already weakened by a conflict now in its third year.”
On Friday, the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian aid, OCHA, said the coalition was still blocking desperately needed UN aid deliveries to Yemen, despite the reopening of Aden and Wadea.
“Humanitarian movements into Yemen remain blocked,” said OCHA spokesman Russell Geekie.
“The reopening of the port in Aden is not enough. We need to see the blockade of all the ports lifted, especially Hodeida, for both humanitarian and for commercial imports.”
UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council this week that unless the blockade is lifted, Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims”.
Stylianides echoed Lowcock’s concerns.
Yemen “is suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than two-thirds of its population in need of humanitarian assistance”, he said in a statement.
“The EU shares the concerns expressed by… Lowcock and calls for full and unrestrained access to be restored immediately, to avoid Yemen suffering the largest famine in decades,” Stylianides said.
Saudi Arabia relies heavily on the U.S. military for intelligence sharing, refueling flights for coalition warplanes, and the transfer of American-made cluster bombs, rockets, and other munitions used against targets in Yemen.
Congress, however, has never authorized U.S. support for the war, which has caused 10,000 civilian deaths and has spiraled in recent months into one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century. For two years, Saudi Arabia and its allies have imposed a sea and air blockade around Yemen. Now, more than 7 million Yemenis face starvation and thousands, mostly children, are dying from cholera. Coalition warplanes have repeatedly struckcrowded markets, hospitals, power plants, and other civilian targets.
Several members of Congress indicated an interest in the issue, noting that the Obama and Trump administrations’ reliance on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to justify U.S. involvement in the conflict is absurd. That authorization, after all, was designed to fight the terrorist groups responsible for the September 11 attacks, not to intervene in Yemen’s civil war.
For 16 years, the executive branch has pointed to the AUMF as legal justification for its involvement in conflicts across the Middle East and Africa, a strategy that is legally questionable. But the use of the AUMF in the Yemeni context is especially bizarre given that the AUMF’s target is Al Qaeda, and the group AQAP — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula –is fighting alongside the U.S.-Saudi coalition against the Houthi rebels.
One bipartisan legislative attempt to force a vote on authorization for the war, H.Con.Res.81, faced a major setback last week after appearing to gain political momentum. On November 1, lawmakers stripped the bill of its privileged status, meaning the bill no longer maintains a fast-track to a floor vote. The legislation was designed to invoke the War Powers Act of 1973 to terminate U.S. involvement in the Yemen War.
Because the bill is no longer privileged, it will head back to the the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is led by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., a lawmaker who has expressed deep support for the Saudi-led military campaign. Few expect the legislation to move forward now that it is back in Royce’s domain. In April, the representative read a statement of support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen and entered into the congressional record an opinion column written by a Saudi general.
The move to crush H.Con.Res.81 was apparently negotiated by Democratic and Republican leadership. As part of a compromise, there will be some congressional debate over the war, though no on-the-record vote for authorization. As The Intercept previouslyreported, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the Democratic whip, was among the Democratic leaders opposed to invoking the War Powers Act to bring U.S. involvement in the war to an end.
Still, sponsors of the legislation are hoping to force a debate and an on-the-record vote over the war.
“Our national security interests in Yemen are unclear, yet we are giving money and military assistance to Saudi Arabia so they can continue to wage war in Yemen,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of 43 co-sponsors. “This military action was never authorized by Congress and the American people deserve an open debate by their elected officials.”
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., also a co-sponsor of the resolution, expressed frustration that House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to allow a vote on the war and disappointment that the compromise solution negotiated by congressional leadership will not include a binding vote.
“This is part of my frustration about the fact Congress does not meet its constitutional responsibility when sending young men and women to die for this country, and we have a constitutional duty that we must debate war,” Jones said. “The vote to go to war in Yemen, we can’t even get a vote on this resolution. To me this is the way Congress does not work. We don’t work because we do not uphold the constitution.”
BERLIN — As U.N. and international humanitarian agencies raise the alarm over the Saudi blockade of aid deliveries to Yemen, European and American officials have remained mostly silent. The few remarks coming out of Western capitals in recent weeks have hardly been messages of support for the Yemenis in the midst of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis — in fact, quite the opposite.
Two weeks ago, Britain’s then-Defense Minister Michael Fallon offered a blunt assessment of the government’s view on the controversy. “I have to repeat, sadly, to this committee that obviously other criticism of Saudi Arabia in this Parliament is not helpful,” Fallon told the parliamentary defense committee, to which he defended the planned sale of several fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. (Fallon has since resigned over sexual harassment allegations.)
In response to a missile attack from Yemeni territory targeting Saudi Arabia — which triggered the most recent escalation of the crisis — President Trump similarly ignored the plight of civilians in the war-torn country and instead went on to praise U.S. weapons sold to Saudi Arabia.
Both the United States and Britain have been making more money with arms sales to Saudi Arabia in recent years than ever before. Human rights critics fear that Saudi Arabia has not only bought their weapons but their acceptance for its policies.
Of course Saudi Arabia’s attractiveness to Western countries is not just about arms sales. On Thursday, Downing Street said it would provide Saudi energy giant Aramco with credit guarantees of $2 billion to facilitate trade between the two countries. Britain and the United States are both trying to persuade Aramco to hold its much anticipated IPO (valued at hundreds of billions of dollars) on the London and New York stock exchanges, with President Trump tweeting that such move would be “Important to the United States!”
In the United States, the Obama administration similarly suspended the sale of precision guided munitions to Riyadh last year. However, the Trump administration is believed to be working on the resumption of such sales. A separate major U.S. arms export deal to the kingdom was struck in May, and Trump has voiced increasingly strong support for the Saudi leadership ever since. Similarly, Germany is still exporting military equipment to the kingdom, although it now appears to be refraining from direct arms deliveries.
If E.U. politicians were determined to implement an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, parliamentarians would have to persuade the governments of all member states to agree to such a ban. With more than a dozen nations profiting from arms and military equipment exports to the kingdom, the chances of such an embargo being implemented anytime soon are virtually nonexistent.
Attempts by nongovernmental organizations to force governments into committing to an embargo enforced by courts have so far also been blocked. Campaigners suffered a major defeat this summer, when London’s high court ruled that Britain was not complicit in alleged war crimes in Yemen by allowing the Saudi military to use its arms.
The court refused to say how it came to its conclusion, however, and barred the public from accessing the key evidence.