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Yemen Crisis: This Exotic War Will Soon Become Europe's Problem
The main outcome of the Saudi air campaign will be terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants
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Yemen is short of many things, but weapons is not one of them. Yemenis own between 40 and 60 million guns, according to a report by UN experts published earlier this year. This should be enough for Yemen’s 26 million people, although the experts note that demand for grenades that used to cost $5, handguns ($150) and AK-47s ($150) has increased eightfold. Whatever else happens, the war in Yemen is not going to end because any of the participants are short of weaponry.

Yemeni politics is notoriously complicated and exotic, with shifting alliances in which former enemies embrace and old friends make strenuous efforts to kill each other. But this exoticism does not mean that the war in Yemen, where the Saudis started bombing on 26 March, is irrelevant to the rest of the world. Already the turmoil there is a breeding ground for al-Qaeda type attacks such as that on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The collapse of the country into a permanent state of warfare will send waves of boat-people towards Western Europe or anywhere else they can find refuge. It is absurd for European leaders to pretend that they are doing something about “terrorism” or the refugees drowning in the Mediterranean when they ignore the wars that are the root causes of these events.

So far the Yemen war has been left to the Saudis and the Gulf monarchies, with the US ineffectually trying to end it. The reality of what is happening is very different from the way it is presented. The Saudis allege that they are crushing a takeover of Yemen by the Houthi Shia militia backed by Iran and intend to return the legitimate president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to power. In fact, the Houthis’ seizure of so much of Yemen over the past year has little to do with Iran. It has much more to do with their alliance with their old enemy, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who still controls much of the Yemeni army. This enabled the Houthis, whose strongholds are in the north of the country, to capture Sanaa easily last September, though UN experts note that the capital “was guarded by no less than 100,000 Republican Guards and Reserve Forces, most of them loyal to the former president”.

The Saudi air campaign is geared more to inflicting severe damage on the units of the Yemeni army loyal to Saleh than it is to weakening the Houthis. The Houthi militiamen are experienced fighters, their military skills and ability to withstand air attack honed between 2004 and 2010, when they fought off six offensives launched by Saleh, who was then in power and closely allied to Saudi Arabia. It was only after he was ousted from office in 2012 that he reconciled with the Houthis.

The Saudi war aim is to break this alliance between the Houthis and the Saleh-controlled military units by destroying the army’s bases and heavy weapons. The more lightly armed Houthis are less likely to be hard-hit by air strikes, but without the support or neutrality of the regular army they will be over-stretched in the provinces south of Sanaa. In Aden, they are fighting not so much Hadi-supporters, but southern separatists who want to reverse the unification agreed in 1990.

The problem with the Saudi strategy is the same as that with most military plans. The 19th-century German chief of staff, General Helmuth von Moltke, said that in war “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. The same warning was pithily restated more recently by the American boxer Mike Tyson, who said that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.

The danger for Saudi Arabia is that wars build up an uncontrollable momentum that transforms the political landscape in which they are conceived. Had the Saudis not intervened in Yemen, it is unlikely that in the long term the Houthis would have been able to dominate the country because they are opposed by so many regions, parties and tribes. Yemen is too divided for any single faction to win an outright victory. But the air war has been justified by Saudi Arabia to their own citizens and the Sunni world as a counterattack against Iranian and Shia aggression. It will not be easy for Riyadh to back off from these exaggerated claims to reach the sort of compromises required if Yemen is to return to peace. A further danger is that demonising the Houthis as Iranian puppets may well prove self-fulfilling, if the Houthis are compelled to look for allies wherever they can find them.

Yemenis insist that their society has not traditionally been divided along sectarian lines between the Zaidi Shia, a third of the population, and the two-thirds of Yemenis who are Sunni. But this could change very quickly as the Yemen conflict gets plugged into the wider and increasingly warlike regional confrontation between a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia and a Shia counterpart led by Iran.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been one of the main beneficiaries of the militarisation of Yemeni politics, because it can present itself as the shock troops of the Sunni community and its fighters are no longer under pressure from the regular army. As many Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans have discovered to their cost, Sunni-Shia sectarian hatred and fear is often only one massacre away.

The Saudis and the Gulf monarchies worry so much about Yemen because it is very much their backyard. But there is every reason for the rest of the world to worry too, because Yemen is joining Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia as places where warlords rule in conditions of anarchy. They are places where life has become unlivable for much of the population, who will take any risk to escape.

This is the sort of national calamity that is filling the boats and rafts crowded with desperate emigrants that are heading across the Mediterranean for Europe.


And this calamity is particularly bad in Yemen, because the country was in crisis even before the present conflict. According to UN agencies, malnutrition in Yemen is about the same as in much of sub-Saharan Africa and only half the population has access to clean water. The country imports 90 per cent of the grains used for food, but no ships are coming in because its ports are blockaded by the Saudis or caught up in the fighting. In any case it is difficult to move food supplies because of a chronic shortage of fuel. Lack of electricity means that essential medicines in hospitals cannot be stored.

This is not a short-term problem, Yemen is finally falling apart, but it may take a long time doing so, which means that there will be a vacuum of power. AQAP and other jihadi groups are already taking advantage of this. America’s much vaunted drone war against AQAP has not prevented the organisation taking over whole provinces.

The Sunni-Shia confrontation has a fresh injection of venom. Yemen has endured many wars that the rest of the world has ignored, but this one may well prove uncontainable.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Immigration, Saudi Arabia, Yemen 
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  1. The only reason that the Yemen conflict need become a European problem is the failure of European leaders to treat “refugees” from that conflict as they invaders they truly are. An Australia-like policy of placing migrants outside of EU territory and telling them “no way” they are ever going to see Europe would enable the rest of the world to treat this bloodbath with the total indifference it richly deserves.

  2. So far the Yemen war has been left to the Saudis and the Gulf monarchies, with the US ineffectually trying to end it

    When you see statements that far off the mark, there’s no point to read the rest of the article. In fact the USA has been providing intelligence and has offered ‘refueling’ to the Saudi air campaign:

    Trying to end it? Laughs.

    • Replies: @No trust
    , @Byrresheim
  3. No trust says:
    @Ronald Thomas West

    This embedded journalist cannot be trusted. He spread the lies of the intelligence services of the west. Use your own brain. Saudi Arabia is a petty poppet of US/Israel and won’t dare to wage a war on Yemen. This is US/ISRAEL war on people of Yemen executed by the proxy Saudi Arabia. US/Israel is using different proxy such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL and sometimes Kurds as well. The embedded journalist is trying to paint the lies of the intelligence services that there is a ‘sectarian war’ at play where only dumb people buy it.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Diversity heretic – what a joke !!

    An “Australia-like” policy…..??? You are kidding……

    Good luck to Europe spending all that money building refugee camps & bribing third world neighbours to take them all in – like we are doing.

    We get about about the same amount of refugees attempting to land here in an entire year that Italy ,etc get over two or three weeks.

    Ahh…the rightwing white nutters still dont have a clue.

  5. @Ronald Thomas West

    @ No trust

    Sir, I too was a bit surprised by that statement. Either Mr. Cockburn should change that sentence or give us some further information, at least from where I am, this looks off the mark.

  6. In little more than months the new Australian government shut down a people smuggling network that had earned itself over USD$300 million and trafficked over 55,000 bogus refugees into Australia. Europe needs to take similar action immediately.

    • Replies: @No Second Israel
  7. @Kevin Rudd

    If you want NO immigrants, then YOU MUST stop American/Israel and Nato aggression all over the world. You can’t have it both ways. US and Nato aggression have killed millions and destroyed their countries and economies. Destroy the aggressors not the VICTIMS.

    • Replies: @Greasy William
  8. There would be no danger of its becoming a European problem if European leaders had the spine to refuse admission to any more Muslims and to expel all those already here illegally and/or engaged in any kind of criminality.

    It really is that simple.

    • Replies: @Kat Grey
  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Patrick Cockburn; this problem is created by the Europeans & Americans (USA) who have been involved in supporting corrupt & no democratic regimes all over the world. Killings innocent people via drone strikes and so on. Let’s not forget the chaos created in Libya (by the French)Iraq & Afghanistan. What you sow so shall you reap,

  10. Boganboy says:

    The obvious strategy in the Middle East is to go cap in hand to the South Africans and buy their synthetic fuel technology. They’ve been making half of their oil for 40 years. We could make all of our oil from coal and abandon the Middle East entirely. The locals are perfectly capable of making a mess of their affairs without our help anyway. Of course the reason this didn’t happen years ago is, first of all, OPEC bribes, and second, the brilliant Saudi strategy of initially not raising the price of natural oil to the cost of synfuel. This held matters until our lords and masters got used to the extra profit they were getting as part of their cut from the higher prices, while blaming the wicked Saudis for doing all the robbing. Our rulers have long since been co-opted by the Arab thieves to join together to rip us off.

  11. @No Second Israel

    Stop us how? By blogging about it? Making on comments on Unz?

    The aggression against the enemies of the Jewish people has been going on for nearly 100 years now. The only states ever willing or able to stop that aggression, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, have long since been destroyed, with no possibility of resurrecting. The aggression will cease when our enemies have been totally annihilated and every inch of the land that was promised to us in under our sovereignty, no sooner.

    There is no way for you to stop us. Not now and not ever. Just enjoy the time you have remaining with your Arab, Turkish and Persian friends.

    Am Yisrael Chai.

  12. @Greasy William

    {There is no way for you to stop us.}

    We will see zionazi, we will se who is right terrorists. You have been exposed as a colonist, terrorist, racist and thief.

    • Replies: @Greasy William
  13. Kat Grey says:
    @Irish Savant

    This mass invasion has been programmed to coincide with the increasing threat of ISIS and growing youth unemployment in Europe. The African migrants are to be used as shock troops for the EU elitists’ own diabolical ends; the result will be an explosion of violence and anarchy in the streets of European cities and towns causing many deaths and an economic collapse making items like food and water scarse commodities. to be viciously fought over. Terrorism will also rear its ugly head with increasing frequency effectively turning most of Europe into a giant war zone.This will necessitate the imposition of a single EU military force. Member countries’ national sovereignty will vanish only for Brussels to march its jackboots over the bewildered faces of the now docile indigenous sheep who will be gradually amalgamated with the new arrivals in order to create a cheap slave labour force to compete with China and Brazil as well as soldiers to fight in the war that will inevitably come about with Russia. Putin is forging even closer links with China as I type this.

  14. @condemn the terrorists

    1. “Colonist”: impossible to colonize land that belongs to us
    2. “Terrorist”: I prefer freedom fighter
    3. “Thief”: impossible to steal land that rightfully belongs to us
    4. “Racist”: guilty as charged

  15. @Greasy William

    The land of Palestine has been stolen by the colonists who were living around the black sea, called Khazaris, where adopted Judaism in 8th or 9th century. Zionazi must get their facts right. The zionist racists are the first group in the Middle East who advanced their goal using MODERN TERRORISM, started by bombing and assassination using WMD including king David hotel. Palestine was purchased Rothschild family who controlled British Empire, like today where control evil empire.

    Nathan Rothschild around 1911 told the world that Rothschild family controls the British Empire. He said:
    {I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man who controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.}
    In his diary, Theodor Herzl, describes submitting his draft proposals to the Rothschild Family Council, noting: “I bring to the Rothschild’s and the big Jews their historical mission. I shall welcome all men of goodwill — we must be united — and crush all those of bad.”
    Theodor Herzl’s eyes were on Palestine. Thus, he used the wealth of the Jewish plutocracy to buy Abdulhamid II, the Ottoman ruler with little success.
    Modern Jewish immigration into Palestine began in 1882. The Ottoman Government was aware of this influx from the outset, and decided to oppose Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1881, some months before the increased flow of Jews got under way. There was a great pressure from the European on Ottoman Empire to accept Jews to settle on the east bank of the River Jordan, because neither the ruler nor the people of the empire desired to have Jews in their land.
    In November 1881, in response to the Anglo-German group’s approach, the Ottoman Government announced that: “Jewish immigrants will be able to settle as scattered groups throughout the Ottoman Empire, excluding PALESTINE.” *

    * Neville J. Mandel, “The Arabs and Zionism”, 1980

  16. The land of Palestine has been stolen by the colonists who were living around the black sea, called Khazaris, where adopted Judaism in 8th or 9th century

    So you agree that the Sephardim are the “real” Jews and have the right to force out the Palestinians? You agree that the ancient Israelites had the right to force out the Canaanites?

  17. @Greasy William

    The zionazis must understand that Palestinians are living in their land, Palestine, for 22 centuries continually until these thieves came. Hebrew, – not Jews who adopted the religion- were living with Palestinians as well, but not the racist colonists who rule stolen Palestine today because of the money of Rottenchild family and its zionist extension. Turk who are Muslim are not Arabs, so Khazaris who adopted Judaism are not HEBREWS. They have stolen Palestine because they controlled the British empire with their money made through WARSssssssssssssssssssssssssss, like today.

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