Last night the U.S. launched cruise missiles against three radar stations along the western Yemeni coast. The area is formally under control of the Sanaa government, an alliance of Houthi tribal groups from north Yemen and parts of the Yemeni army under control of the former president Saleh. But their real control is patchy and especially around Taiz and further south al-Qaeda and local south Yemeni independence fighters are predominant.
The attack comes after U.S. ships were allegedly attacked by missiles fired from the coast. All those missiles“fell into the sea short of the destroyer, which was in international waters in the Red Sea.” (Were these just short range RPG-36 al-Qaeda had received?) The Houthi as well as the Yemeni army (twice) have officially denied that they fired missiles and to have attacked any U.S. asset. Former president Saleh accused the Saudis and their al-Qaeda proxies and asked for an investigation. No one in Yemen had heard rumors of preparations or execution of such attacks. There is no public evidence that any such attack ever happened. All such claims are solely based on the word of the U.S. military. The Houthi/Saleh government in Sanaa demands an official UN investigation into the issue.
Two weeks ago the Houthis had fired on and destroyed a United Arab Emirates fast supply ship. The missile used was decent medium range anti-ship missile of probably Chinese origin. The ship was transporting weapons and anti-Houthi troops between Assab in Eritrea and Aden in south Yemen. They had proudly admitted the attack and published video of it. Earlier smaller Saudi ships which blockaded the coast were attacked by local fishermen and sunk. The UAE has occupied parts of south Yemen (Dubai Port International would like to control the Aden harbor) and the UAE troops and proxy forces are immediate enemy of the Yemeni forces. But it was clear that any attack on a U.S. ship would only increase trouble for the Houthi forces. They had and have no sane reason to commit such an attack.
A recap how we got here. After some tribal upheaval in 2011-12 the President Saleh was pressed to move aside and his vice president Hadi was installed as president with a two year mandate. The installation of a new national government failed when Hadi and his sponsors denied any seat at the table for the large northern Houthi tribes (some 45% of the total population). Those tribes revolted and occupied the capital Sanaa. Hadi, then in the third year of his two year mandate, resigned, retracted and later verbally resigned again. The UN tried to negotiate a settlement but the UN envoy was ousted on behalf of Saudis and the agreed upon unity cabinet was not installed:
Yemen’s warring political factions were on the verge of a power-sharing deal when Saudi-led airstrikes began a month ago, derailing the negotiations, the United Nations envoy who mediated the talks said.
The Saudis, who had fought earlier wars against the Houthis, do not want them to have a role in any power structure. They claim that Houthi are Iranian proxies. There is no evidence for that at all and the claim is simply false. During some 18 month of war no sign of Iranian help, weapons or personal, has been seen. Even the NYT notes today:
American intelligence officials believe that the Houthis receive significantly less support from Iran than the Saudis and other Persian Gulf nations have charged.
The Sauds want their trusted puppet Hadi back in the presidential role with unlimited powers. He can be endlessly manipulated by them. But while the Sauds are much richer their people is not significantly bigger than Yemen. Yemen has some 26 million inhabitants while Saudi Arabia has some 29 million. Every Saudi attack against Yemenis creates new recruits who will attack Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. supports the attacks by the Saudis and the UAE. It delivers planes and ammunition, its aerial tankers refill the Saudi jets taking part – in total over 5,500 times since the bombing began. U.S. intelligence is used by the Saudis to plan their attacks. U.S. officers consult the Saudi planning cells and U.S. special forces are on the ground. It ships help to blockade the Yemeni coast. Despite such massive support the U.S. officially did not consider itself part of the conflict and even tried to negotiated some powersharing agreement as if it were a “neutral” force. That did not deceive anyone in Yemen but the U.S. public was gullible as ever about this.
That ended as more and more atrocities by Saudi attacks on hospitals, schools, markets and important infrastructure became public. After the recent Saudi attack (vid) on a funeral hall filled with people offering condolences the U.S. ran out of stupid excuses. The bombs used were U.S. manufactured. The attack killed over 200 and seriously wounded many more. The local hospitals are overwhelmed and the Saudis block any evacuation. Many of casualties are tribal elites and generals.
Cholera broke out in Yemen and people are dying of hunger. The U.S. has come under pressure over this and the Saudi attacks. The State Department spokesman was hopelessly trying to explain why the funeral attack was in “defense of Saudi Arabia” and different from less severe attacks in Syria which the U.S. condemns. A significant number of senators are pressing for an end to the support of the Saudi campaign. Moveon has started a petitions against the U.S. support and the Obama administration itself feared legal consequences.
An “attack” on U.S. assets that puts the U.S. into a justified “self defense” position against the Houthis makes all such concerns irrelevant.
Over the last weeks the Saudis have transported sponsored fighters aligned with al-Qaeda in Yemen from south Yemen to Saudi Arabia. These have now started to attack the Houthi areas in the north from the Saudi side of the border. All earlier such attempts miserably failed.
There are rumors that the U.S. attack on the radar stations is in preparation of a massive troop landing by UAE and Saudi mercenary forces currently assembling in the UAE rented and controlled port Assab in Eritrea. That is, in my view, quite possible.