Understanding the US-Saudi-UAE war on Yemen (Left Forum video)

Benjamin Norton
24 min readJun 15, 2018


I spoke about the US-Saudi-UAE war on Yemen, the history of the conflict, the Houthi movement, the north-south divide, and the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world.

This was on a June 3 panel at the Left Forum 2018, with human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik, who discussed Iran.

I apologize for the technical issues in this video; I did not film it.

If you want more information, I also have a Moderate Rebels episode on Yemen with Max Blumenthal and Shireen al-Adeimi.


Understanding the US-Saudi-UAE war on Yemen (Ben Norton, Left Forum, 3 June 2018)

In some ways it’s a good idea that Yemen is on a panel about Iran, because of course they’re closely related, but in some ways it’s also I think somewhat misleading. And I’ll be talking today about why trying to lump Iran in with the war in Yemen is a ridiculous talking point used by the US government and its allies to justify continued aggression against the people of Yemen.

First of all I’ll point out that this is the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world, and every time we have this discussion, that needs to be the point we stress from the very beginning: Yemen is suffering from the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. The United Nations has repeated this for years now.

Right now, as we speak, 8.4 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation, according to the United Nations. And just in the past few days, the UN aid chief for Yemen warned that if the US-Saudi, or the — I’ll get to this in a second, explaining the parameters of the war — but the US, UK, Saudi, and Emirati attacks, if they continue, on the port of Hodeida in Yemen, which I’ll explain, then another 10 million Yemenis could be on the verge of starvation.

We’re talking about 18.4 million, with an M, Yemenis who are potentially on the verge of starvation. I try not to throw around the word “genocidal,” because it has a very specific meaning, but I think in this context it’s actually appropriate. This is actually a genocidal war.

And the Saudis, with staunch support from the US and the UK, and the Emiratis as well, have made it very clear that they’re willing to starve massive numbers of Yemeni civilians to force the country into submission.

So I’ll explain why the war is happening; I’ll explain many of the misleading talking points. But before we have this discussion, we always need to stress this point, that, as horrific — and it’s extremely horrific — as the war in Syria is; as horrific as the situation Libya is; these countries that have been ravaged by US imperialism, ravaged by war for years; Yemen is still the worst, by far, on the planet.

Again 18.4 million people potentially on the verge of starvation. By the way that’s [66] percent of the population.

Let’s talk about what the war in Yemen is and why this is happening. And first I’ll begin by debunking a very common talking point that we hear in corporate media outlets, we hear from the US government, we hear from the Israeli and Saudi governments, and that’s that this is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

On March 26, 2015, this is when Saudi Arabia, with the support of the United States and the United Kingdom, launches a bombing campaign in Yemen. The ostensible attempt of Saudi Arabia by launching this bombing campaign is to oust the Houthi movement — I’ll explain what they are — from parts of south Yemen, and then also from the capital Sanaa.

I’ll explain, I know there’s a lot of names here, I know there’s different cities and groups, I’ll explain what all these are, but I’m trying to start from the beginning.

From March 2015 until today, Saudi Arabia, with the support of the US and the UK, has relentlessly bombed civilian areas in Yemen, carrying out tens of thousands of air sorties, killing thousands upon thousands of civilians in brutal attacks on hospitals, schools, funerals, wedding parties.

A few weeks ago there was a brutal bombing of a wedding party that killed dozens of people, including the bride, and also wounded the groom.

So daily life in Yemen for the past more than three years has been hellish. For more than a thousand days, people have been living under constant bombardment, and also a crippling blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, similar to the blockade of Gaza by Israel. It’s not just a naval blockade; it’s also an air blockade. They’re preventing humanitarian aid from getting in.

And most of, around three-fourths of the humanitarian aid comes through what’s called the port of Hodeida. Hodeida is a major Yemeni port city on the west coast, and I’ll talk more about that in a bit, because there’s recently been an offensive that is being led by the Saudis and the Emiratis, with the support of the US and the UK, to try to take Hodeida from the Yemeni rebel group the Houthis, which could lead to massive, massive civilian casualties — as I mentioned, millions of people starving.

I know it’s hard, Yemen is one of these issues where there’s not that much information, so there are a lot of names and things to learn, and I’m trying to go in a logical order, and I understand that you might be confused about some things. Hopefully I can clarify those in a bit.

But I just want to stress that, from the beginning, from March and April 2015, when Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen — again, we must stress, with weapons military intelligence and fuel from the US — since that point, for more than a thousand days, the narrative we’ve heard is that “Saudi Arabia is waging this war to stop a supposed Iranian proxy group from waging a campaign of terror in Yemen.”

This is absolutely preposterous. The Houthi movement, which in late 2014 moved south from the north of Yemen, their base — this is a somewhat tribal group in the north of Yemen. Some people have compared it to Hezbollah; that, if you had to make a comparison, maybe that’s, Lebanese Hezbollah, is maybe a somewhat similar group, although they have very different histories.

The Houthis were formed — their official name is Ansar Allah, and technically that’s what we should call them, but people don’t really know what that is, so I’ll call them the Houthis. They’re named after a family, the Houthis, who created the group in the 1990s.

In 1990, South and North Yemen unified. During the Cold War, the south of Yemen, in fact, was the only Marxist government in the Middle East. There were some other socialist governments, but it was the only Marxist-oriented government in the Middle East. It was allied with the Soviet Union. The north has a kind of nationalist-oriented government. It’s certainly not Marxist, yet alone socialist, but it kind of tries to forge a somewhat independent path.

In 1990, with the counter-revolution in the Eastern Bloc and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yemen is unified as we know it today. Although, I’ll talk about how the war has actually in some ways broken it apart again.

So in 1990, Yemen is reunified under the leadership of a man named Ali Abdullah Saleh — just Saleh, as he’s known. He was just killed last year by the Houthis. I know this is complicated, but I’ll try to explain this in a bit.

Saleh is, again, a kind of nationalist. He’s from the north, so for some people in the south, this is seen as a kind of act of aggression. And that still explains some of the sectarian tension in Yemen today.

Also when we talk about these misleading narratives on Yemen, we have to understand that, this is certainly not by any stretch of the imagination a sectarian religious conflict. If anything, there are elements of sectarian geography in politics, because Yemen was, from the 1960s until 1990, divided, there still are these echoes of northern and southern different cultural, political, religious identities.

Religion is one element of that. But it’s not so much a Sunni-Shia conflict as it is a north-south conflict. And then of course an international conflict, war, being waged on Yemen.

South Yemen, the capital of which was Aden, which is one of the major cities, comes under the control of the north and is unified. And what happens is, in the southern parts of the country, with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, you have an influx of Saudi investment, Emirati investment, from some of the US-backed Gulf regimes in the region — which, again, have been cultivated for decades under the tutelage of the American and British empires, and are theocratic absolute monarchies.

Especially in the case of Saudi Arabia, which is known for exporting an extremist form, a distorted form, of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism. And what happens is, in the south of Yemen, which is Sunni-majority, there is the rising influence of Wahhabism, as Saudi investment comes in.

Frequently the deal with the devil that’s been made, throughout the Cold War, and then especially since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, is this kind of procedure that is always backed, again, by the US, and that’s that Saudi Arabia will provide support financially and politically for charities, schools, madrassas, and other institutions in somewhat poor, underdeveloped, formerly colonized Muslim-majority countries. And in return for that, Saudi Arabia will send its own clerics, will spread its own TV shows and Wahhabi propaganda. And what happens is the population largely becomes much more conservative, as people go to madrassas.

The case study of this is in Indonesia. We don’t have time to get into Indonesia, like the brutal US-backed genocide in 1966 and ’67 against the communists. But after then there was a somewhat more secular government, which has become more and more Islamist in orientation. And as Saudi Arabia, especially after a recent [tsunami] that killed thousands of people, there’s been a lot of Saudi investment. And there’s been a major rise in Wahhabi influence, a lot of Indonesians joining ISIS.

Saudi Arabia funds a school for free in Indonesia for anyone to attend, and has mandatory Islamic studies, mandatory Fusha Arabic classes. So this is part of, it has its origins in the Cold War. It’s a strategy adopted by the US and the UK, to prevent Arab nationalism and communism from spreading in the Middle East, and that was using right-wing Islamism.

I’m not saying Islamism is inherently reactionary; it’s not. But in the case of Saudi Arabia, this is a right-wing, extremely reactionary Islamism, that has been spread. And after reunification in Yemen, in the south, Saudi Arabia also supported what’s called Islah, which is the Muslim Brotherhood party. In Yemen it’s extremely right wing.

This is also complicated history because, today, Saudi Arabia actually considers the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization, only because the Muslim Brotherhood poses the biggest threat to the rule of the Saudi royal family, in terms of groups that could actually likely overthrow the Saudi royal family.

But Saudi Arabia cultivated Islah and right-wing Islamist groups, primarily in the south of Yemen, but also to an extent in the north.

The north of Yemen is majority Zaidi, which today is considered Shia. Although I know a lot of Zaidi Yemenis, and what they often jokingly say, which, it’s just true, is that they didn’t consider themselves Shia really until 2011, until the so-called “Arab Spring.” That’s a misleading term, phrase, for a lot of reasons.

But in 2011 there is a protest movement that ousts Ali Abdullah Saleh and brings in ostensibly an “election,” in 2012, but there’s no other candidate. And the person who is put into power by the US and the Gulf regimes around Yemen is Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. And Hadi is a pretty loyal puppet, in the south of Yemen [today], and I’ll get to that in a second.

But the point is that, in 2011 there are these protests and there’s a rise of sectarian tension. In the south you have a Sunni-majority population; in the north you have Zaidi. Again, this is not a religious conflict, but in terms of understanding how these political conflicts map themselves out. Just as the conflict in Ireland is not a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, but because of people’s cultural and political identities they kind of map themselves out in some ways on religious lines.

In the north you have Zaidis, about 40 percent of Yemeni population is Zaidi. This is an unorthodox kind of loosely Shia sect of Islam, although in practice it’s actually pretty similar to what’s known as Hanafi Islam, which is the main madhab; it’s the mainstream Sunni Islam practiced by the former parts of the world that were ruled by the Ottoman Empire and the Mughal Empire. The majority of Sunnis in the world follow the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, known as a madhab.

So the Zaidis, in the north of Yemen, the Shia, are actually closer to Sunni than they are to Iranian Shiism, which is Twelver Shiism. However there has been a concerted attempt in the post-2011 years, after the ouster of Saleh and the expansion of Saudi influence in Yemen, there’s been a concerted attempt to portray the Houthis as Shia who are somehow similar to Iranian Shia, and Iraqi Shia.

And this is part of this anti-Shia myth of the Shia Crescent, the “Shiite Crescent” you’ve probably heard. It’s spread by a lot of these more right-wing, anti-Shia, Salafi-Wahhabi groups.

And so what happens is, in this period, with the reunification of Yemen in 1990, you have the rise of Wahhabi influence that comes from Saudi investment in the south. In response to that in the north, you have the rise of a kind of Zaidi nationalism, if you will, somewhat Shia-oriented, similar in some ways to Hezbollah, in the way that Hezbollah was a kind of Shia nationalist group in Lebanon that pushed out the Israeli military occupation of south Lebanon, and then fought a war; it pushed out Israel again in Lebanon in 2006.

Again, they’re not exactly the same. And actually it’s kind of propaganda by Saudi Arabia and Israel to portray the Houthis as the “Yemeni Hezbollah,” to justify the continued war. But it’s not a totally ridiculous comparison.

And the Houthis began organizing in the 1990s, and they were based in Saada in the north of Yemen. In fact there’s a low-intensity war waged between the central government of Yemen, led by Saleh, and the Houthis. So just before Saleh is ousted in 2011, there is a six-year war from 2004 to 2010, between the Houthis and the central government. This is when they get a lot of training; this is when they actually capture a lot of weapons from the Yemeni military.

And this is important, because this gets us — I’ll fast-forward in a moment to the war today. Because the narrative is that the Houthis are an “Iranian proxy” who were backed militarily by Iran to overtake the so-called “legitimate government” of Yemen and impose an Iranian-style government that is going to fight Saudi Arabia and Israel.

That’s ridiculous. As I mentioned, the Houthis have their origins in the 1990s as a grassroots organization that emerged, and then they waged a war against the central government from 2004 to 2010, and that’s when they’ve got a lot of their weapons and began training.

And it’s also important to understand that Yemen — in some ways the US is totally on planet Mars when it comes to the militarization of our society. We have by far the largest number of weapons per capita, of firearms per capita. Yemen, however, does come in a somewhat close second. The US and Yemen are unique in that there are so many weapons flooded in both of these countries, that there are a few parallels in the rest of the world.

So the idea that the Houthis would even need weapons from Iran is pretty outrageous in the first place, and it demonstrates how little a lot of these propagandists know about Yemen. I have friends from north and south Yemen who would joke that you walk down the street and see people with assault rifles, just hanging out. They’re in their trucks and they have heavy weaponry.

Part of this is also because of the so-called “War on Terror.” In post 2001, post 9/11, the US allies with Saleh as a way to counter the growing influence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, which is one of the most extreme forms of al-Qaeda in the Middle East. So the US ironically allies with Saleh and gives the Yemeni army huge weapons shipments to help fight al-Qaeda. Of course the US wages a drone war as well, which is ongoing.

What happens is, fast-forwarding, Saleh is ousted. Hadi, who is now seen as the so-called “elected” representative, who is supposedly the legitimate government. Hadi is the president recognized by the United Nations. But as I mentioned, he ran in an “election” where there were no other candidates, and then he overstayed his term in office. And then he fled the country when the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa in late 2014, and then he fled to Saudi Arabia, where he has stayed for the majority of this conflict.

This is a Saudi puppet, backed by the US, who is seen as the “internationally recognized president.” He’s the internationally recognized dictator.

In late 2014, fast-forwarding to the war — I know that’s a lot of information; I know it may seem not entirely relevant, but we have to understand the origins of the war we’ll get to. And then I’ll spend five minutes here talking about the war itself.

So in late 2014, the Houthis, which I mentioned had been growing, formed in the 1990s, expanding in the 2000s, they move southward. And they have support. I mean the Houthis certainly are not some progressive revolutionary socialist group; no one is going to pretend that. But they’re a kind of nationalist-oriented group that is dedicated specifically to violently countering al-Qaeda and ISIS.

And you have the rise of these Wahhabi-influenced extremist groups that are bombings Zaidi mosques. There are actually horrific suicide bomb attacks on Zaidi, these are the unorthodox Shia, mosques in [2015], before the war even begins, in which hundreds of Zaidi civilians are killed, in attacks that were claimed by AQAP or ISIS. There’s also growing ISIS influence in Yemen.

Because they’re countering, because the Houthis are countering these extremist groups, and because they have this kind of nationalist-oriented anti-corruption campaign, they talk a lot about corruption, and about supporting the people, and creating social programs; they’re somewhat populist in orientation; they have some support in the north.

And they continue moving southward. And then they capture the capital Sanaa. And as I mentioned, Hadi flees the country — the “internationally recognized president,” who kind of was not really elected — flees to Saudi Arabia. And then in March 2015, in an attempt to oust the Houthi movement, Ansarullah, from Sanaa, and from southern parts of the country, Saudi Arabia wages a brutal bombing campaign, which begins relentlessly targeting civilian areas in an attempt to force the population into submission.

With the help of the US, they impose a crippling naval and air blockade, again using starvation as an intentional tactic to force Yemenis into submission.

And we must always stress; media outlets tend to forget this — they’ll mention “Saudi-led coalition,” will use the term “Saudi-led coalition,” but while it is technically the Saudi air force that is doing the bombing, while there are technically Saudi troops involved, as well as Emirati troops, this is all done with the protection, under the aegis, of the US and the UK governments.

With billions of dollars in weapons sales from the US and the UK; military intelligence and assistance; in-air refueling, with millions of barrels of oil, gallons of fuel, being put into Saudi warplanes, literally in the air, while they’re waging these bombing campaigns, by the US military.

The US Navy is helping to enforce the naval blockade on Yemen. So I use the term “US-Saudi,” or if you want to be really long, to be more specific, US-UK-Saudi-UAE war. These are the main actors.

Technically there’s what’s called an “Arab coalition,” backed by the US, of Sudan, technically Bahrain; I mean there’s Egypt. But these countries aren’t really playing the main role. Sudan did have some mercenaries who were being paid by the Emiratis to fight in Yemen. Also interestingly, the Emiratis hired Colombian mercenaries who are notorious for being extremely right-wing, egregious human rights abuses and torture. So there are many mercenaries hired by the Emiratis.

And the Emiratis have in fact started to colonize south Yemen, as this conflict has gone on. All, again, under the protection of the US and the UK, they know what’s happening. The Emiratis couldn’t do this without US and UK support.

There’s an island called Socotra which is off the south of Yemen. It’s an extremely unique island. It’s recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. It has extremely unique, almost sci-fi-looking fauna, these interesting trees. It’s amazing; it’s very beautiful. This tropical island, it’s been taken over militarily. I mean it was already taken over economically by the Emiratis, but the UAE literally sent tanks in, and they have colonized and taken over this island. Again totally with the support, rubber-stamped, by the US and the UK.

In the south of Yemen, there’s a massive influx of Emirati capital. They’re essentially colonizing the south as well. And what’s happened is there’s been essentially a kind of breakup, unofficially returning to pre-1990 Yemen, where the south and north are not united.

I’ll talk a bit more here; I only have a few more minutes.

So what has happened is that, the Houthis, they went south, and it’s true that they did capture some cities, because the government was weak and they were addressing legitimate grievances, the Houthis did capture some cities that were beyond the kind of traditional Zaidi-north Yemeni influence, including Aden. And they were pushed out early in the war. So the Houthis did overextend themselves, and go into area in which they were not really that popular.

However, there’s been a largely a stalemate from the beginning of the conflict, really since 2015, there has not been significant change, there haven’t been significant shifts. Unlike, say, the war in Syria, where there have been significant gains by the Syrian government; it retook Aleppo, Homs. It’s largely been a stalemate in Yemen. And that’s because the parts that the Houthis control, which represent about 80 percent of the population of Yemen, Saudi Arabia is not popular in these parts of the country.

And if you look at how the Saudi- and Emirati-backed government in the south has governed, it’s not an ideal alternative, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s this thing that’s been organized called the Security Belt, which is essentially this privatized police that is paid by the Emiratis. They basically control south Yemen.

There’s technically a “legitimate government,” but what’s interesting is there are now even contradictions within that US-backed government against the Emiratis. So the Saudis back Hadi — I know this is complicated — but the Saudis back Hadi, who is the internationally recognized dictator, against the Emiratis. And there’s this kind of inter-capitalist rivalry between the Saudis and the Emiratis, over influence inside south Yemen.

That brings us to the humanitarian situation I began with. There’s a stalemate. The Houthis are not going anywhere. And in fact the Houthis never wanted to control the entire government. They formed an alliance with Saleh, the former president. And Saleh stabbed them in the back and turned on them, and was willing to ally with the Saudis and the Emiratis, and the US and the UK, in a secret operation — this was last year — to try to oust the Houthis. And they killed him.

And now the Houthis are entirely in control. That was never their plan. If you listen to their rhetoric, that was never their intention. They said, “We wanted a legitimate representation in this government; we wanted people to recognize the plight of people in Saada, the plight of people in this rural area; and we wanted people to address corruption.”

But they are now governing the country. And there are talks of a potential new government formed with Saleh’s old party. But it’s really a political stalemate. And while we’re in this political stalemate, where there have been few political gains, the Saudis and Emiratis, with support from the US and the UK, have decided that they’re going to do anything they can to retake the country and force out the Houthis. And if they have to starve millions of Yemenis, so be it. That is their strategy.

They can’t really retake significant areas from the Houthis, especially the capital; it’s not going to happen. They brutally bombed Sanaa, the capital, for three years now, killing thousands of people, and have barely budged an inch. All they’ve done is just killed large numbers of Yemenis.

And it’s important to understand that, we read these media reports talking about “at least 10,000 Yemenis have died.” The AP has ironically reported this for two years, and the death toll hasn’t changed.

The reporting on this is so bad. And the 10,000 figure, which was true two years ago, that was only violent deaths. That grossly underestimates the severity of this conflict.

The vast majority of Yemenis who have died have died from preventable humanitarian causes, primarily malnutrition and starvation, and disease. The war has unleashed the largest cholera epidemic in recorded history. This is a cholera epidemic that’s even significantly worse than the cholera epidemic in Haiti, after the earthquake. The worst in recorded history. Records for cholera began in 1949.

Really, the Saudi and Emiratis, with US and UK support, have bombed Yemen back into the medieval age. On purpose. Trying to starve and kill Yemenis, really, until they submit, until they just totally submit to Saudi and Emirati domination of their country.

Why are they doing this? There are a few different reasons. One, it’s ridiculous to say that the Houthis are an Iranian proxy. In fact, ironically, when Saleh was an ally of the US in the “War on Terror,” Saleh exaggerated the Houthis’ influence by Iran, Iran’s influence with the Houthis, and intentionally tried to portray them as an Iranian proxy, while he was waging war against them between 2004 and 2010, to get more weapons from the Americans.

So what’s funny is the Americans drank their own kool-aid on this intelligence. Obviously they don’t even need real intelligence; they’ll just make things out to justify the military conquest. But this idea that the Houthis are an Iranian proxy is ridiculous.

Even the UN panel of experts, the UN convened a panel of experts, and they wrote a report that tried to look at supposed Iranian arms shipments into Yemen. And they documented six intercepted arms shipments that maybe came from Iran, but they couldn’t even prove they were destined for Yemen in the first place. Maybe they went to Somalia, and it’s not entirely clear.

Let’s say, let’s give them the benefit of doubt, and say that the Iranians did send these arms shipments to Yemen, it’s not heavy weaponry. These are hundreds or maybe a few thousand assault rifles, a few rocket launchers. But this is not the kind of significant weaponry we saw for instance the CIA send into Syria; it pales in comparison.

We need to understand that the Houthis raided the Yemeni army’s reserves, arms reserves. And also elements of the Yemeni army defected to the Houthi movement, when they took over. So this attempt to portray this as an Iran-Saudi proxy war is outrageous.

It’s not an Iran-Saudi proxy war. If anything, Iran’s influence has been political. And that is significant. Iran does politically support the Houthis at the United Nations, through media reports.

But this is a war being waged on Yemen by Saudi Arabia the UAE, with the support of the traditional imperialist powers the US and the UK, and it has resulted in the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the world, and very little political gains.

The only way that the Saudis and Emiratis could win is by starving millions of Yemenis to death. And they may very well do that, with US support. If anti-war activists don’t organize to stop it.

Q&A Session

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The one thing I wanted to bring up is the vote in the Senate about Yemen recently, where Bernie Sanders and a couple of the senators said we have to finally stop bombing Yemen. And I would have wanted to — he was in Allentown, where I live, endorsing our local congressional candidate. I didn’t have a chance; I wanted to stand up and say, “Why didn’t you ask the bombing to stop when Obama and Hillary were bombing Yemen? Why didn’t you stand up then?” And of course the vote didn’t win.

But I still don’t quite understand our motivation. You are saying Ben that it’s nothing to do with Iran. Does our government understand that? Why are why are we doing it? It’s such a small tiny country. I know we want to stamp out Arab nationalism everywhere, but I don’t quite get why, what is the motivation. If it’s not about Iran, that we’re committing such a horrific war crime, I don’t quite get the motivation. I need to know the motivation to be able to talk to other people.

BEN NORTON: I addressed some of that. One quick correction: I didn’t say it has nothing to do with Iran; I said it’s not an Iran-Saudi proxy work. It certainly has things to do with Iran. In fact, I talked about, I mentioned, Iran supports the Houthis politically, in terms of media support. And the Houthis are allied politically with Iran; they’re allied with Lebanese Hezbollah; they’re allied with the Syrian government. I simply pointed out that it’s not an Iran-Saudi proxy war, as many media outlets frequently stress.

As for why the war is happening. A few different things. It’s a great question. Sorry I wasn’t as clear when I was trying to spell that out.

Of course it’s about having a suppliant regime in Yemen that will be allied with Israeli, Saudi, American, British, Emirati interests. I didn’t point out, my mistake, that the Houthi slogan is in fact, “Death to America. Death to Israel.” So clearly the US is not going to be content with a government allied with Iran that is led by a political organization that chants, “Death to America. Death to Israel.”

But even more than that, Yemen is a very poor country, but it is also very strategically located. Specifically the Mandab Strait, in southwest Yemen, known as Bab al-Mandab, every single day 3 to 4 million barrels of oil travel through this strait. Estimates vary, but between two-thirds and maybe as many as three-quarters of trade ships go through this area. This is strategically a very important area, specifically for trade to Asia.

And if you look at a lot of the fighting, I mentioned that the war has largely been a stalemate, since the beginning of the war. Sarah pointed out that, at the beginning, the Saudis, and the Americans backing them, claimed this would be a few weeks; it would be a very quick war; they would just mop up Ansar Allah, the Houthi movement, and force them back into Saada in the north. Of course it’s largely been stalemate. They did force the Houthis out of elements of, parts of, the south — Aden and other parts.

But a lot of the fighting has been centered around [Taiz and] Hodeida, I mentioned, which is on the port. That’s a major port city on the sea, on the west, which is a very important strategic trade area.

You might have seen some media reports of alleged Houthi missile attacks supposedly on a US Navy ship, which was originally reported — in a complete fiasco the State Department claimed that Iran had attacked US ships off of the coast of Yemen. First of all, the US has no right under international law to have these ships off the coast of Yemen there. The US is imposing a brutal naval blockade. But even beyond the illegality of that the naval presence, it was totally false. It was not an Iranian attack; it was an alleged, maybe Houthi missile attack on a US naval vessel off of the coast, in the Mandab Strait. And even that might have been a false report based on a malfunctioning radar.

So there’s the important geopolitical geostrategic location of Yemen. And then of course, again, political alliances. If you just look at where Saudi Arabia is located, the Houthi movement, Ansar Allah, have waged attacks inside the southern area of Saudi Arabia. They’ve actually broached the border that’s almost unprecedented in modern history.

Saudi Arabia is an extremely fragile regime. Of course since the 1930s, when the current Saudi regime was solidified, and then especially since 1945, FDR — a good anecdote is FDR spent his last Valentine’s Day, Valentine’s Day 1945, meeting with King Ibn Saud, forming a famous pact in which the US pledged to provide security to the Saudi regime in return for oil.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: He gave him one of his wheelchairs.

BEN NORTON: Exactly, there’s a famous photo where his know translator is sitting next to him.

So the Houthis actually pose a political threat to the Saudi regime, which is undergoing “reforms” now because it’s so unstable. And the Americans and the other patrons of Saudi Arabia recognize how unstable regime this is.

King Salman is probably senile. In fact there are rumors that, as soon as the end of Ramadan, he might step down, he might abdicate, for his son, who is effectively the ruler of Saudi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

MBS is being portrayed glowingly in all these corporate media outlets as a “reformist,” even as a “revolutionary.” Of course he’s actually arresting women’s rights activists, while claiming that he’s going to let them drive.

And to be a little fair, I don’t say this that much, but the New York Times actually did a pretty good report recently on this group the SCL group, which is the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. And there’s been some reporting on this finally, after Russiagate is dying down, we’re looking at the actual infiltrators of the 2016 election.

And of course Cambridge Analytica was one of these companies that was profiting off of electoral manipulation and manipulating people’s opinions. And Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL group was paid by the Saudi regime to do detailed intelligence work on the Saudi population and find certain policies that the Saudi regime could implement to maintain stability.

So the Americans and the British, which are the regimes that are really supporting Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis, in this war — without American support, as even the New York Times editorial board acknowledged, Saudi Arabia could not wage this war.

The Saudi military does not have much military experience. As Sarah mentioned, as I mentioned, the US is providing Saudi Arabia with billions of dollars of weapons, advanced military technology, military intelligence; there are American and British military officials physically in the command room, the bombing command room, for Saudi Arabia.

This is inextricably a US/British war. And it’s about maintaining the stability of the Saudi regime; maintaining access to these critical trade routes; preventing a pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian, pro-Hezbollah government from emerging in the south, based on political leaders that chant, “Death to America. Death to Israel.”

And also Mohammed bin Salman, this is his, this is supposed to be his pet project. Mohammed bin Salman, before establishing dictatorial powers, purging his political rivals — it’s so funny how any other purge in history, when it’s a purge led by US enemies, is portrayed as the most evil thing ever. But in fact the political purge in Saudi Arabia was applauded.

Muhammad bin Salman killed some of his cousins, in mysterious helicopter accidents, all in the span of a few weeks. He imprisoned bin Talal and several others, Waleed bin Talal. Thomas Friedman basically praised this as the “revolution” going on in Saudi Arabia.

Muhammad bin Salman made the war in Yemen, it was supposed to be his pet project to show he’s a political leader who can lead his country and wage these important political conflicts to maintain the stability of his regime. So it’s a multiplicity of factors.

Originally published at bennorton.com on June 15, 2018.



Benjamin Norton

Benjamin Norton is an independent journalist reporting on geopolitics. // Benjamín Norton es un periodista independiente informando sobre la geopolítica.