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US Anger Over Jamal Khashoggi Has Finally Led to Progress in Yemen
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The number killed fighting in the war in Yemen jumped to 3,068 in November, the first time it has exceeded the three thousand mark in a single month since the start of the four-year conflict. This is about the same number as were being killed in Iraq at the height of the slaughter there in 2006.

The difference is that the Iraqis were not starving to death as is happening in Yemen. Aid organisations have long warned of mass starvation as 14m hungry people are on the verge of famine according to the UN. In a ruined economy, many Yemenis do not have the money to buy the little food that is available.

But at the last moment, just as millions of Yemenis were being engulfed by the crisis, a final calamity may have been averted.

On Thursday negotiators from the Saudi and UAE-backed forces and the Houthi rebel movement meeting under UN auspices in Sweden unexpectedly agreed a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah through which flows 70 per cent of Yemen’s food and fuel supplies. The Saudi-backed coalition forces and the Houthis have agreed to pull back their fighters from the city which the coalition has targeted has since June. It is the intensified fighting in and around Hodeidah that produced the spike in civilian and military fatalities.

The surprise breakthrough at the negotiations, which are meant to pave the way for full peace talks, has encouraging elements. Some 15,000 prisoners are to be exchanged and a humanitarian corridor is to be opened to the city of Taiz which has long been a focus for the fighting.

Truce agreements after long periods of fighting are always shaky as opposing fighters, locked in combat for years and regarding each other with the deepest suspicion, begin to disengage their forces. But, for once in Yemen, there are reasons for optimism, which have little to do with the warring parties themselves and everything to do with political changes in Washington and in the relations between the US and Saudi Arabia.

On the same day as the Hodeidah ceasefire was being announced in Sweden, the US Senate was unanimously approving a resolution holding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the architect of the war in March 2015 – accountable for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul two months ago. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and sponsor of the resolution, said: “I absolutely believe [Mohammed bin Salman] directed…I believe he monitored it. And I believe he is responsible for it.” Earlier in the month, after a closed-door briefing from the CIA director, Gina Haspel, Corker said: “If the Crown Prince had gone in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.”

This is rough stuff and came in the wake of a 56 to 41 vote in the Senate for a resolution ending US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The Senate is also demanding the release of political prisoners held for supporting peaceful reforms such as rights for women.

President Trump and the White House are still standing by Saudi Arabia, but they are paying an increasingly heavy price for this protection. Republican senators as well as Democrats are leading the attack on the Crown Prince and the Saudi role in Yemen. This assault is going to get worse for the Saudis when the newly-elected Democratic majority takes over the House next year and steps up the pressure on the administration over its close alliance with Saudi Arabia. Trump may find that at the end of the day he is more vulnerable over his Saudi connection than his links to Russia.

Even if Trump does go on protecting the Crown Prince and Saudi Arabia he will look for something substantive in return. This is likely to include an end to the Yemeni war which the US once supported, primarily as a favour to the Saudis. It is a clear sign that the balance of power between Washington and Riyadh has changed radically in favour of the former.

A less obvious reason why the war in Yemen may come to an end is that neither side is in a position to defeat the other side. Many in Saudi Arabia and its allies may have believed earlier this year that capturing Hodeidah would be a decisive blow against the Houthis, but this was always a misconception. The Houthis are expert and experienced guerrillas who would certainly fight on against the less capable Saudi-backed government forces. They may well see impending famine as strengthening them diplomatically because it will provoke greater international criticism of the Saudi intervention.

The war has always been seen as a personal project of the Crown Prince, which, as Defence Minister, he launched in March 2015 in expectation of a quick victory under the revealing code name “Operation Decisive Storm”. But instead of victory there was a military stalemate, though this did the Saudis little political damage until recently. They claimed with some success that their war was a counter-offensive against Iran and Western leaders and media commonly referred to the “Iranian-backed Houthi rebels”.

But Iranian support for the Houthis was always limited, reportedly consisting of free oil product delivered outside the country to the Houthis who then sold it for cash. It is a mistake to think that Iran or any other power in the Middle East necessarily needs to deliver arms and ammunition in crates. Much of the Middle East is a black-market arms bazaar and this has always been particularly true of Yemen. Anybody with money to pay for weapons will never lack an arms dealer willing to supply them.

After the Saudis failed to win the war quickly in 2015, they largely lost interest in it though they could not afford to bring it to an end without some sign of success. The human cost did not concern them as they were receiving military and diplomatic cover from the US, UK and France.


The international media shamefully paid little to the war until the Khashoggi affair: a measure of this lack of interest was the lazy way in which news outlets cited the number of Yemenis who had died violently in the conflict at just 10,000, quoting a two-year-old UN figure which was, in any case, an underestimate. It was only after the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) meticulously counted the number of those killed since January 2016, that it emerged that the true figure for fatalities was 60,223. ACLED estimates that, when it has counted the number of dead in the first year of the war, the overall figure will rise to between 75,000 and 80,000, not including those who have died from famine or disease.

Bizarrely, it was not the killing of these tens of thousands but the murder of one man, Jamal Khashoggi, which may help bring to a close one of the most unnecessary wars in history.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
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  1. APilgrim says:

    Interesting that 100% of the US Senate is foolish.

    Their unanimous votes are generally MORONIC.

    This is another example.

    Khashoggi was radical Islamic scum.

  2. Giuseppe says:

    The big losers in the Senate vote on Yemen were Israel and Trump’s State Department; but, I repeat myself. Trump may well succeed in docking the tail that wags the dog through his support of Israel and its projects where others failed through their opposition. If so, this vote on Yemen is a welcome first step.

  3. If the net effect of the Kashoggi killing is to finally put an end to the brutal war on Yemen, then it’s all for the best. But I hope no one here is still buying the story that official Washington has turned against MBS because of ‘human rights’ or some other non-sense like that. Here’s the real reason:

    • Replies: @foolisholdman
  4. Anonymous [AKA "Peyton Farquar"] says:

    How many pro-Israel journalists would have to go down to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict? I’m not holding my breath.

  5. @Digital Samizdat

    Yes its a very interesting article; headlined “The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS “

  6. Anonymous [AKA "Roger S"] says:

    What do you mean “unnecessary war”? Every war is necessary to someone, besides the fact that somebody makes a whole lot of money from them. In this case Yemen is a necessary prelude to any war with Iran. The Saudis need an Indian Ocean port for their oil for the eventuality of the closing of the Strait of Hormuz. Israel wants war with Iran, which is why there is an alliance with the Saudis – and the US – in this war in Yemen. The Saudis have their own reasons for war with Iran, but the only reason the US wants it is for Israel.

    I seriously believe that the real reason we are backing out now is that the Saudis have realized they are losing both the war and the support for it and will find another way to get their port, perhaps by using the US to “rebuild” a Yemen more to their liking from the ashes. “Everybody gets what they want”, except the next “demon” in the row of dominoes in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Iran is also the last domino before a nuclear WWIII.

  7. If progress means that in order to consider the efficacy of military policy overseas, some well connected insider has to been killed by his own government . . .

    That’s the kind of movement that isn’t and a practice we should neither expect or want.

    As tragic as that death is, as major impact on US policy — a tad shrift

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