The new war in Yemen, led by the most reactionary state in the Middle East, can only end in disaster

John Rees

‘Operation Support Legitimacy’, as the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia is calling its attack on Yemen, is bound to bring yet another Middle Eastern state to the point of destruction.

To understand why we need to look back at the roots of the current conflagration, which is a particularly dramatic variant of the crisis which has already seen the implosion of Iraq, Syria and Libya.

The maelstrom in the Middle East occurs at the point where two vectors meet. They are the consequences of the failure of the war on terror and the consequences of the  failure of the Arab revolutions.

The failure of the war on terror has produced some unintended consequences that are now impacting on the Yemen. They are:

  1. the incapacitation of the major imperial powers in terms of the full scale deployment of military capacity in the Middle East. Hemmed in by the mess they created in the region and the still powerful anti-war sentiment at home, the major powers are unable, for the moment, to muster the political will for full scale interventions of the sort seen in the 1991 Gulf War or the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  2. this incapacity has allowed regional powers, whether allied to the US or not, to play a more assertive role. This is true of both Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also of Turkey, Egypt and Israel.
  3. this political vacuum has also been partly filled by non-state actors including, Al Queda, the Islamic State, Hezbollah, the Kurds and now, in Yemen, the Houthis.

This crisis of the imperial order in the Middle East could have been resolved in a progressive manner if the Arab revolutions of 2011 had been successful. But only in Tunisia has the potential of these revolutions been partially realised in a democratic capitalist republic.

In the storm centre of the Arab Revolutions, Egypt, the military have returned to power in a coup and have aligned the state with Saudi Arabia. In Syria and Libya the attentions of the imperial powers and their regional proxies vitiated the progressive potential of the revolutions at an early stage creating a vacuum from which the Islamic State and other reactionary terrorist formations have been the major beneficiary.

The way this process unfolded in Yemen is particularly instructive. In 2011 a mass revolutionary movement in the Yemen, in which the Houthis played a role, forced dictator President Salah from power. He was extracted from the country by Saudi Arabia. But at this point the revolution was stalled by the intervention of Saudi and its Gulf monarchy allies in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).

The GCC was at this very moment emerging as the key organising centre of counter-revolution in the region, intervening in Libya, backing the Free Syrian Army and then the IS in Syria, crushing the Bahraini revolution by means of an armed invasion.

In Yemen the GCC deal was to organise an ‘election’ is which President Salah’s side-kick and then Vice President, Mansur Hadi, was the only candidate. This fake election’ is a critical reason why Hadi lacked the very thing for which the Saudi-led war to re-impose him on the Yemen is supposedly being fought: legitimacy.

The imposition of Hadi scrambled the forces of the uprising in an already poor and weak society. Al Qaeda continued to operate, as it had done for years, in parts of the Yemen drawing drone attacks from the US. These, typically, alienated many Yemenis.

The Houthis became allies of Salah as he attempted to return to Yemeni politics. Iran, which has had its regional power significantly enhanced by simply profiting from the failure of the US project and US allies across the region, gave some limited support to the Houthis.

This all massively disconcerted Yemen’s neighbours in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been to war with the Houthis in their northern stronghold before. Now they fear the rise of Shia, Iran-friendly, forces in both Iraq and Yemen.

This has produced a sea-change in Saudi foreign policy. They are now intervening militarily on a much larger scale than ever before. And they are pulling behind them a wider coalition of nations at the core of which are the reactionary monarchies of the GCC.

The very least that can come of this is a bloody civil war along Syrian lines. But it may be even worse than this. If a ground invasion takes place a regional conflict becomes a possibility. Al Qaeda and the IS are also fighting the Houthis and they will be strengthened if the Saudi operation is successful. But that is not necessarily the outcome we should expect.

True, the Saudis have massive 150,000 strong armed forces equipped by UK, US and other Western arms companies. True, they are enjoying the unstinting support of the West. But Yemen is a highly armed population with an average 54.8 per 100 people owning small guns — ie two guns for every Yemeni. Any fighting will look like the insurgency that met, and ultimately wore down, the US invasion of Iraq.

In short, nothing good can come of the armed attack led by the most reactionary state in the Middle East. Our government is supporting the Saudis to the hilt, as it always does.

The job of the anti-war movement is to oppose this policy. It is to assist in getting the Western powers and their key regional allies off the back of the Yemenis and allow them to decide their own future.

29 Mar 2015

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