Stop the Saudi war in Yemen

October 13, 2016  THE HINDU                                                                             EDITORIAL

Saudi Arabia’s 18-month-long military operation in Yemen has been replete with attacks on civilian centres and mass casualties. But even by recent standards, the horrific strike on a mourning hall in Sana’a on October 8 that left at least 140 people dead and more than 500 injured, most of them civilians, was unprecedented. Since its start in March 2015, the brutal military campaign in one of the poorest Arab countries has evoked international criticism against the Saudis for the use of excessive force, even allegations of war crimes. But Saudi Arabia has appeared to pay no heed. Riyadh claims it is defending the internationally recognised regime of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which operates out of the southern city of Aden, against Shia Houthi rebels. But while “defending” a government that doesn’t seem to enjoy any legitimacy at home, Riyadh and its allies have turned Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe. The UN estimates that over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have so far been killed and millions displaced since the Saudi intervention. Besides, the country’s already poor healthcare system has crumbled and its economy is in a shambles. More than half of Yemen’s 28 million people do not get enough food, while close to 400,000 children endure severe malnutrition. Even from a strategic point of view, the Saudi intervention is a disaster. After 18 months of incessant bombing, the Houthis are still defending their bases, including the capital city, while the Hadi administration operates out of some pockets. Neither the human suffering nor the futility of the campaign has compelled Saudi Arabia to look for other solutions.

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This is because Riyadh sees this war as part of its rivalry with Iran. It considers the Houthis to be agents of Iran, and does not want Tehran to have a proxy presence in its backyard. But Saudi Arabia cannot be allowed to destroy Yemen further to defend its narrow geopolitical ambitions. Washington supports the campaign through intelligence-sharing and by vetting targets. Moreover, the Obama administration announced a $60-billion arms deal for Riyadh months after the Yemen operation began. It expressed “deep concern” after the Sana’a bombing, but stopped short of taking any action. The U.S., which recently pulled out of the Syria peace talks citing Russia’s bombing of Aleppo, should ask similar questions of the Saudis, and use its ties with Riyadh to find a diplomatic solution to the Yemen crisis. What Yemen needs is an immediate ceasefire between the Houthis and the Saudis, followed by talks involving all parties, not more bombings.

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