Overshadowed by its relative smallness and obscured by its relative complexity, the six-month-old civil war in Yemen is the middle child of Middle East conflict. Recently, its most prominent mentions in the U.S. have been in the Republican debates as candidates have placed the rebellion by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government on the list of Iran’s regional evildoings.
This is true, but it also overlooks the fact that great devastation is being wrought at least in part with the tacit blessing of the United States, which has aligned itself with the Saudis. This past week has been particularly tragic, not only on the ground in Yemen, but in the diplomatic realm outside where efforts to contain and reckon with the human suffering in Yemen have fallen short.
On Monday, an airstrike by Saudi-led, American-supported coalition mistakenly hit a wedding party that killed more than 130 people. According to reports, the death toll was exacerbated by a supply shortage, which kept some victims from receiving critical medical treatment.
“This is warfare,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir explained to CBS News, in describing the efforts to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. He added: “We are very careful in picking targets. We have very precise weapons. We work with our allies including the United States on these targets.”
His unapologetic invoking of the United States on Tuesday had a timely ring to it. On Wednesday, the Justice Department formally denied an apology to Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni man who lost two family members in 2012 in an American drone strike gone wrong. Spencer Ackerman notes that the family members of two Westerners who were mistakenly killed in similar strikes did receive notes of condolence from American officials.
Since the Saudi-led coalition started its offensive in March, much has been made of its status as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and very little of the way the battle has been conducted and its consequences.
“Six months of civil war and hundreds of coalition air strikes have killed more than 5,400 people in Yemen, according to the United Nations, and exacerbated widespread hunger and suffering,” Reuters reported. The United Nations also estimates that more than 2,300 of the dead are civilians.
This week, Dutch diplomats were stymied at the United Nations as they sought to create a UN-led investigation into human-rights abuses in the six-month-long civil war. The efforts failed in large part because the United States and other Western powers did not strongly endorse the independent investigation and sided with the Saudis. As Samuel Oakford notes:
Faced with total opposition from the Saudis and their allies, and de-facto instructions from the US to compromise, the Dutch announced on Wednesday that they had withdrawn their text entirely, likely ending efforts to get an international inquiry.
On Friday, a weaker resolution proposed by the Saudis gained unanimous approval at the United Nations. However, outside the United Nations, it was heavily critiqued. Human Rights Watch called it “deeply flawed.”
“The U.S., U.K., and France appear to have capitulated to Saudi Arabia with little or no fight, astoundingly allowing the very country responsible for serious violations in Yemen to write the resolution and protect itself from scrutiny,” one HRW official said.