Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The British Royal Air Force and the American Air Force bombed the Yemeni capital of Sanaa again on Tuesday, in a campaign that President Biden admits has had no effect. Washington and London ordered the airstrikes, now being launched almost daily, in retaliation for the rockets being launched at Red Sea container ships by the Helpers of God or Houthi militia that controls 80% of Yemen’s population. The Houthis say that they are punishing Israel for its total war on the Palestinians of Gaza by cutting off Red Sea traffic to the port of Eilat.
On Friday, massive crowds gathered in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa to protest the US air strikes. Houthi leaders addressed them, saying that they are standing up for the weak and oppressed among the people of Palestine. Hatred for the US is boiling over throughout the Arab world.
The Biden administration had been persuaded to seek peace between the Houthis and their Gulf foes. It lifted the terrorist designation of the Houthis because international aid groups warned that it prevented them from dealing with the de facto government of Yemen in providing food and other aid. Some 16 million Yemenis in the north have faced hunger and malnutrition because of the war on them by Saudi Arabia and the UAE since 2015 — a war to which the US contributed logistics and strategic advice.
But now the US State Department has restored the terrorist designation to the Houthis.
So think about the ironies. Biden had not wanted to designate the Helpers of God as terrorists so as to avoid starving ordinary civilian Yemenis living under their rule.
But then Israel launched what some have called a genocide against the noncombatant civilian population of Gaza, which UN agencies are arguing is starving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
The Houthis launched missile attacks on shipping to protest the starvation of the Palestinians.
Biden has not only done zero, zilch, nada to address the danger of famine in Gaza, but now in order to uphold the Israeli denial of basic nutrition to the Palestinians he has gone to war with Yemen and is setting things up so that there is a danger of thousands of Yemenis dying of hunger.
Meanwhile, the Kahanaist Jewish Power bloc, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, forms a key part of the Israeli government. He is the Minister of National Security, sort as if the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan were Secretary of Homeland Security in the US. The State Department had listed its parent party, Kach or Kahane Chai, as a terrorist organization until 2022. It said the delisting was “bureaucratic,” but it was likely done to let people like Ben-Gvir off the hook.
So to recap: Ben-Gvir and his ilk are not only now not listed as terrorists, but the Biden administration is supporting their genocidal policies against Palestinians in Gaza to the hilt.
In order to allow them to go on starving Palestinians, Biden is now willing to starve the 33 million Yemenis.
The Israelis ran out of ammunition some time ago. They can only continue this war because Biden resupplies them in real time, daily. Biden could stop it any time he wanted. He doesn’t want to. And he is willing to risk a wider Middle East war for Netanyahu and his creepy fascist friends in the Israeli cabinet.
Bombing militias from 30,000 feet is a waste of munitions. You can only defeat a guerrilla movement with infantry and armor assaults that take territory and deprive it of a base from which to operate. The terrorist group ISIL (ISIS, Daesh) was rolled up in Syria by the YPG, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, with US and allied air support. ISIL was rolled up in Iraq by the Iraqi army that President Obama rebuilt in alliance with Shiite militias, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that were trained and armed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Yes, in 2014-2018 the US was de facto allied with the Revolutionary Guards and their Iraqi allies, though neither Washington nor Tehran would ever admit it. In both instances, no progress could have been made by merely bombing ISIL from a great height. They’d still be in control of Raqqa and Mosul if it hadn’t been for the ground troops.
Likewise, bombing Sanaa will likely have no effect whatsoever. Houthi drones and rocket launchers can be hidden and are hard to locate and strike. The Houthi leadership is good at hiding out. The movement fought the Yemeni central government until 2014 when they took over the capital. From 2015 until a couple of years ago they faced an intensive bombing campaign led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, that damaged a lot of infrastructure (bridges, ports, roads) that are essential to keeping people alive. But the Houthi movement, which is a political ideology and party-militia embedded in clans, handily survived. In fact, ultimately the Saudis sought a ceasefire, and the United Arab Emirates gave up on fighting the Houthis and just built up their own southern proxy force, the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, in order to assert control of the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden coasts and the port of Aden. I recently published an article on the struggle in South Yemen.
The Houthis are Zaydi Shiites, a different denomination than prevails in Iran and Iraq. They have no ayatollahs and are closer to the Sunnis. They are not a mere Iranian cat’s paw but a deeply Arab Yemeni movement that originated in a northern protest against the encroachments of Saudi Wahhabism in their area, and the Saudi dominance over the old nationalist government of Ali Abdullah Saleh. They are a poor people’s movement and very indigenous. They come by their sympathy for the oppressed Palestinians honestly. But of course they are also playing to the Arab street, hoping to drum up support by being the only Arab government actually to stand up to Israel over its murderous Gaza campaign, which has largely killed innocent civilians.
Although we are constantly told that Israel is a strategic asset for the US in the Middle East, nothing could be farther from the truth. The US has to spend trillions of dollars to secure the region for US petroleum and other business interests, in part because of the opposition to Washington that its knee-jerk backing for whatever the far right wing government in Tel Aviv does.
Now US troops are being injured in Iraq and Syria by rockets and missiles fired by Arab Shiite militias in sympathy with the people of Gaza. The Biden administration feels it needs to respond, and so it keeps bombing Iraq, a putative US ally.
And the great container shipping companies are avoiding the Red Sea because of the Houthi attacks. The cost of shipping has gone up 182%, and the crisis could go on for months, rekindling inflation. Some 30% of world seaborne trade goes through the Red Sea, 10% of world trade in total, and 12% of energy exports. US airstrikes are only making the shipping companies even more nervous, determining them to go around Africa instead, adding 10 days and a great deal of expense to their routes.