The Republic of Yemen, an Arab country situated in the south-west of Asia, has been subjected to persisting intervention from the Saudi-led Arab coalition since March 2015. The situation has progressed into what is now known as the Yemeni Humanitarian Crisis. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “An estimated 80 percent of the population, 24 million people, require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need”. How did the escalation of a civil war lead to the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis today?
In the past decade, Yemen has been subjected to being violently segregated as a result of ongoing internal conflicts sparked by militant groups and foreign nations. Altogether, according to Middle Eastern Affairs specialist, Jeremy M. Sharp, these conflicts have caused Yemen to lose central governance, and “have fragmented the nation into various local centers of power.” In the course of five years, the conflict fuelled by the Saudi Arabian-led intervention gained the most international recognition and is currently the greatest matter of significance in the region. The coalition consists of countries Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain. Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia made their airspace, territorial waters, and military bases available to the coalition. The coalition was built against the northern Yemeni-based Ansar Allah/Houthi movement, commonly referred to as the “Houthis”. In March 2015, after President Hadi’s government had been ousted by the Houthis, forcing him to flee to Saudi Arabia and appeal for international intervention, Saudi Arabia assembled the international coalition, and launched a military offensive, code-named “Operation decisive storm”, aimed at restoring President Hadi's rule.
Western intervention in Middle-Eastern conflicts has always been the cause for rapid escalation of these conflicts. Since the formation of the coalition, the United States have pledged their allegiance to Saudi efforts in Yemen, in effect escalating matters for the worst. In March 2015, President Barack Obama authorized “the provision of logistical and intelligence support to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military operations.” Obama’s administration announced that the United States would establish “a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.” Britain is described to be “intimately involved” in the Yemeni conflict, having supplied, alongside the US, weapons and military and diplomatic support to the Arab coalition. France also plays a role in foreign intervention. In 2016, 50% of arms orders placed with the French industry came from the Middle-East. Saudi Arabia being its number one client, “having purchased nearly nine billion euros worth of weaponry between 2010 and 2016, representing 15-20% of France’s annual arms exports”, according to a report to parliament on French arms exports.
Why are the United States and its allies so gravely invested in the Yemeni civil war? The answer is, Iran. According to the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen, the Houthis have been receiving continuous “military support in the form of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and more sophisticated cruise missile systems” from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iranian contribution has aided the Houthis in strengthening their position against the Arab coalition. From both Saudi Arabia’s and the United States’s perspectives, Iranian aid to the Houthis poses the threat of Iranian expansion.
Iran-Saudi relations have been bitterly strained by tensions caused by their religious differences; Both are Islamic nations, but one is predominantly Shia and the other is predominantly Sunni. Saudi Arabia, in attempt to maintain its title as the birthplace of Islam, has aided President Hadi’s government’s struggle against the Houthis, in attempt to prevent Iranian Shia regional expansion. The US government claims that Iranian expansion is dangerous to the maintenance of peace in Yemen and has pursued several methods of inhibiting Iranian and Houthi efforts within the region. Since the start of the Saudi-led coalition’s 2015 intervention, U.S. naval forces from the Central Command/5th Fleet, in support of a targeted arms embargo, have “repeatedly intercepted vessels carrying smuggled Iranian arms destined for the Houthis off the coast of Yemen”. All US and Saudi efforts in Yemen are made to counter the Iranian regime in addition to supporting efforts against terrorism, as outlined by President Trump, “to conduct operations against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS”.
The main and perhaps most significant issues with any proxy/civil war are civilian causalities. The Yemeni civil war has forced over 17 million Yemenis into starvation, and 80% of the population into the need of some form of day-to-day assistance. According to Jeremy M. Sharp, the depreciation of the local currency, the Yemeni Riyal, has also contributed greatly to the nation’s suffering, resulting in the rapid inflation of food prices.
In March 2015, the Arab coalition imposed a naval and aerial blockade on Yemen, and “ships seeking entry to Yemeni ports required coalition inspection, leading to delays in the off-loading of goods”. Yemen depends on foreign imports for 90% of its food supply, so disruptions to the importation of food had further worsened the already strained humanitarian conditions resulting from the civil war.
According to the Yemen Data Project, the Arab coalition has “conducted more than 20,100 airstrikes on Yemen since the war began, an average of 12 attacks a day.” The coalition has bombed hospitals, school buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories, and detention centers. 90 of these airstrikes were unlawful and a violation of the laws of war as they targeted innocent civilians. More than 17,500 were killed and injured since 2015, and a quarter of all civilians killed in air raids were women and children. More than 20 million people in Yemen are experiencing food insecurity; 10 million of them are at risk of famine.
To some readers, these numbers may just be statistics. But these statistics represent the ruin of a nation and the near extinction of 29,822,135 people. It is time the world starts paying serious attention to this vulnerable nation.