September 16, 2018
The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen is now in its fourth year. On April 24, 2015 Saudi Arabia announced that “Operation Decisive Storm” had achieved its objective and priority would now shift to rebuilding the country and political dialogue. This new phase was to be called “Renewal of Hope”. More than three years later, the Yemenis find themselves in a state of despair.
On August 3, 2018, speaking at a UN Pledging Conference on Yemen, UN Secretary General António Guterres noted that more than three-quarters of Yemen’s population, 22 million, need humanitarian aid. He said that some 18 million people are food insecure; one million more than the year before.
In a press briefing on August 10, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that between 26 March 2015 and 9 August 2018, it has documented a total of 17,062 civilian casualties – 6,592 dead and 10,470 injured. The majority of these casualties – 10,471 – were as a result of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition.
And, the Washington Post had reported a week earlier that it is almost certain that Yemen’s casualty figures are conservative and possibly grossly underestimated. According to one independent source, the total number of Yemenis killed in combat stood at nearly 50,000. The undercount was explained in part by the impossible task of tallying deaths in war zones where parties to the hostilities provide exaggerated figures while independent monitors are stymied by the violence and shifting battle lines (*).
In the beginning, the US deployed a strong armada of naval vessels in the area and provided Saudi Arabia with political, logistical and intelligence support. But it also advised Riyadh that it would be better to end the operations sooner than later since a military solution was out of the question. The Saudis should have been well aware of this because Yemen is a neighbor and this is not the first time they are getting involved in Yemen’s internal troubles. By Middle Eastern standards, Riyadh is simply incapable of matching Tehran’s “performance” in Syria.
With Trump administration’s attempts to forge a broad anti-Iran regional front, Washington now appears even more indifferent to Yemen’s human suffering. Despite recent reports of rising civilian death toll, Secretary of State Pompeo certified to the Congress last week that the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments. And, the Spanish government confirmed it will proceed with the sale of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, days after saying that the 9.2 million Euro deal had been halted because of concerns over the use of such weapons in the war in Yemen. After all, Saudi Arabia remains a lucrative market for Western arms exports which are governed by a particular set of “principles”. These prevail over West’s professed mission of the promoting democracy and respect for human rights.
The fighting in Yemen must remind older generations of Turks of a beautiful but sad folk song (Yemen türküsü) mourning the loss of thousands of Turkish soldiers in this far away part of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. One could expect, therefore, that the Turkish Government would engage in some perhaps “romantic” diplomatic effort to help bring the war under control if not to an end. Unfortunately, as a result of Turkey’s deteriorating relations with regional countries such endeavors are now out of the question. This, however, is not the only reason underlying our aloofness.
Turkey’ political leadership has been the strongest critic of the United Nations for having failed to bring peace to Middle East conflicts. They claim that Turkey is world’s most principled country to stand by the oppressed. However, Turkey has said nothing on the Yemen conflict and it has done nothing to energize the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to stop the carnage there. The OIC has a Contact Group on Yemen but it has been of no consequence. The Organization’s founding principles should have compelled it to step in, but in reality, the OIC is nothing but an inconsequential foreign policy tool of Saudi Arabia. The Arab League is just as hopeless.
In August, Saudi Arabia announced that it has contributed $100 million to northeast Syria for “stabilization projects” in areas once held by the Islamic State and now controlled by US-backed forces. According to the Saudi Embassy in Washington the money will go toward agriculture, education, roadworks, rubble removal and water service for the region, which is now largely held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. In reporting the development, some Turkish newspapers said that the SDF largely consists of the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkish government which is very vocal in its criticism of American support for the YPG/PYD was again silent. It seems that the custodianship of the two Holy Mosques shields Riyadh against any criticism from Ankara. Turkey’s siding with Qatar in the Gulf conflict and sending more troops there is the glaring exception. Yet, the foreign and security policy rationale of Ankara’s “strategic” relationship with Doha remains a puzzle.