The Saudi-US Agenda Behind Destroying Yemen (Pt 1/2)

A Saudi-led airstrike has killed dozens in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida amid UN warnings of another catastrophic cholera outbreak. Professor Isa Blumi of Stockholm University and author of “Destroying Yemen,” discusses the motives and impact of the unrelenting US-backed assault

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

There has been a new mass killing in the unrelenting U.S- backed Saudi-led war on Yemen. On Thursday, an air strike struck a busy fish market near the main hospital in the port city of Hodeidah. At least 55 people are reported dead, with more than 126 wounded.

SPEAKER: I was saving people when the second airstrike happened. Its impact and shrapnel came into my face, making me bleed. I couldn’t feel my hand because of shrapnel. We moved to the hospital right away and found a disaster, a criminal disaster. The numbers of those killed is 26, 26 martyrs till now, and those wounded reach 35-40 wounded when we counted, not counting those in private hospitals. We sent so many wounded to the private hospitals, and we’re still nursing the wounded and dealing with those killed.

AARON MATE: And that reported death toll has since increased to, as I said, to at least 55. Tens of thousands, meanwhile, have fled Hodeidah since the Saudi-led coalition began an assault there in June. The latest atrocity comes as UN officials warn of a new cholera outbreak in what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

SPEAKER: Every day this week we have seen new cholera cases in Hodeidah, and now this. The impact of the strikes is appalling. Everything that we are trying to do to stem the world’s worst cholera epidemic is at risk. We’ve had two major waves of cholera epidemics in recent years, and unfortunately the trend data that we’ve seen in the last few days to weeks suggests that we may be on the cusp of the third major wave of cholera epidemics in Yemen.

AARON MATE: The U.S. is backing this assault on Yemen by Saudi Arabia. The U.S. arms Saudi Arabia, refuels its jets, and even helps choose the bombing targets.

Joining me is Isa Blumi, associate professor at Stockholm University, and author of Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells us About the World. Welcome, Professor Blumi. If we could start with Hodeidah, what is the goal of the Saudi-led assault there, and what has been the impact so far?

ISA BLUMI: The goal continues to be to bludgeon the northern population of upwards of 18 to 20 million people to submission, and not just to walk to a negotiation table. In fact, every gesture towards negotiations has been denied by especially the Saudis, but other members of this larger coalition, from the very beginning. It is absolute victory that they seek. And because of the nature of the conflict as it has evolved since March 2015, when the bombing started- formally, at least- the tactics have been to first attack infrastructure, and to bring the larger population into a state of absolute destitution and desperation.

Unfortunately for this coalition, the resilience of the resistance despite the fact there is no protection from this constant bombardment from the air has forced a new kind of tactic, which is to actually capture all means of supplying not the smuggling of weapons, as they constantly accuse the Iranians of doing, or some kind of secret supply chain, but literally stopping the supply of emergency materiel to the peoples who are desperately in need of this every day. Every time there is a shipment of supplies, emergency food, it has to go through and be embargoed in Djibouti for a while. Every time there’s an emergency supply of medicines they all have to go through this one port of Hodeidah.

And what the so-called coalition hopes and aspires to do is to capture this territory, to capture the entire coast, and utterly isolate the population not only from the access to the emergency shipments from MSF or the U.N., but also even to stop the population from at least getting some kind of supplies of protein from fish that are caught by fishermen, hence the attack on the fishing village which was right next to the Al-Thawra Hospital, or Hospital of the Revolution, in Hodeidah. So this is one of those cynical gestures, again, to try to completely isolate a population, put them under siege, and starve them to submission.

And nothing has changed. The, the conflict gets worse in waves. The concentration of much of the so-called coalition forces using mercenary armies from Sudan and Chad and elsewhere to capture the coastline, unfortunately for them, has been a disaster. And so this is since June, as you mentioned, an ongoing battle along the coast of Yemen, the West coast of Yemen, along the Red Sea. And it’s- the consequences for the civilian population has been yet again another heightened disaster.

AARON MATE: When you talk about the resistance, I presume you’re referring to the Houthis. Is it fair to say that they’ve also been responsible for killings of civilians, atrocities? Although they don’t have air power, certainly their critics will say that they’ve targeted people on the other side, supporters of the government that the Saudi-led coalition is backing.

ISA BLUMI: The supporters of the government, yes. Well, that’s a little bit more complicated. And indeed, the, those who are resisting this military action by Saudi Arabia and its partners also extends much more broadly than anything we would call the Houthis. And so then the question remains, you know, how are we going to actually categorize this, this conflict? It is indeed a conflict between rival parties, but it was not at all possible without the involvement of Saudi Arabia and its partners. This would not have been a conflict. In 2015, before the March bombardment started, in fact, much of the territories where mostly Yemenis inhabited were successfully captured, if you will, by this coalition that today we call the Houthis.

And so the conflict could have very quickly have been subsided, and maybe as they were demanding that, let’s go back to the negotiation table. Let’s actually edge for peace. Indeed, the context of this bombing yesterday, a very cynical use of air power and double tap or even triple tap technology or tactics, was that there was actually a unilateral declaration of a ceasefire by the so-called Houthis. And in response, the bombings took place.

So yes, there are- of course civilians are dying in this horrible war, and one could always extend blame to any number of parties. What’s actually being done when we use this kind of language, however, is to delegitimize the position or the actors who are expected to be on the table in Geneva in September to negotiate. They’ve always been present, willing, and able to negotiate. But they’ve always been denied the right of representing the resistance, whoever that may be, for the coalition, because clearly they refuse to engage anyone, and are hoping that in time this whole resistance will collapse, and it has not so far.

To blame those who are resisting an invasion is sometimes a difficult kind of mental exercise to approach, at least for me. Because again, they are the ones who are starving and dying of cholera, and are experiencing these horrible tactics of- mastered by the Americans, of course- targeting civilians to create the optimal number of civilian deaths to terrorize people. And indeed you have even with your recorded messages from the ground in Hodeidah, people are terrorized, but they’re also furious. And so again, this does not lead to resolving this conflict any time soon, unfortunately.

AARON MATE: OK. So the picture you’re painting deviates a lot from the conventional narrative we have about the war in Yemen, which frames this around this just being an internal civil war in which Saudi Arabia is basically intervening on one side. Now, your book Destroying Yemen offers a much different analysis than that, and puts Yemen in both a regional context when it comes to the regional designs of the Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia, but also of the U.S. and international finance. The U.S. obviously providing critical support to the Saudi-led coalition. So can you provide us with a brief summary of how you see this conflict as being far different from that conventional narrative that I’ve described, with this being a civil war.

ISA BLUMI: Well, since the turn of the 20th century, North Yemen in particular has more or less has been this only sovereign independent Muslim polity left in the world that has survived and resisted European imperialism. And as a result the ongoing efforts to incrementally acquiring more and more access to what is recognized as a gold mine in terms of mines, and minerals, and water rights, and strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea, tons of oil and gas that could be exploited with the right conditions, North Yemen has long been a target for empire. And the resilience of the resistance, the kind of level of- surprising level of sophistication for many of the more racist elements of empire throughout the last century has resulted in an enduring campaign using proxies often like Saudi Arabia, which through their takfiri Wahhabi brand of viscerally ugly Islam has been able to subordinate neighboring countries, rival populations who have resisted empire at various points in time.

And still Yemen has not been subdued. So this constant effort to access its natural resources, to render the last kind of real space of resistance, with perhaps the exception of Iran since 1979, Libya perhaps, and other small examples, puts Yemen at the heart and at the crosshairs of imperial expansion. And this has only gotten worse as empire has dramatically changed since the global financial crisis of the last 20 years. The constant search for equity, for savings, to divert the savings of the Gulf Security Council’s savings from equity markets in the region, or investment in property in the region, to markets in the Atlantic world has led to the constant ratcheting up of violent exchange in that region. And Yemen has long been the kind of point of primary strategic concern.

AARON MATE: OK. So, Professor, we’re going to get more into the U.S. role in Part 2. But for now I’ll ask you two questions. One, a key moment in your book is when, is in the ’80s, when then-Vice President George Bush goes to North Yemen, which you mention, to broker an oil deal. So I’m wondering if you can talk about that and its importance in this history. But then also how then this current assault on Yemen plays into this historical dynamic you’re talking about when it comes to Yemen’s role in global financial designs.

ISA BLUMI: Always able to, again, work off in the Cold War context rival superpowers. Able to work off rival regional powers. North Yemen under Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had finally consolidated some kind of authority over the military and the various factions that had always made North Yemen’s politics colorful, to say the least, George Bush at the height of the depressed oil prices, global oil prices, when it was between 10 and 15 dollars, actually goes down and represent representing Hunt Oil, signs an agreement for exploration and for financing the infrastructure to develop first North Yemen, which was a separate independent republic at the time, and ideally within a couple of years, indeed, both Yemens unify in 1990, bringing in a much larger pool of oil and gas under what used to be this isolated Marxist state of South Yemen.

And so this was a very interesting and telling move. At the moment when oil prices were at its lowest, where there was absolutely no finance available for Yemen, either the South or the North, to independently develop their assets, their resources, the Americans come along with the head of, the former head of the CIA. Interesting enough, with the L.A. Times story that it was revealed, ultimately, several years later it was Saddam Hussein whose money, getting grants from the United States, rechanneling it to Yemen actually started the process of building Yemen’s oil and gas infrastructure from that point forward, moving forward.

And so what we’re seeing is just a continuation of this initial successful entry into North Yemen politics for the first time for the Americans. And they became increasingly demanding exclusive access to what was the treasure trove of what was yet exploited oil and gas resources, not only in Yemen itself, but also offshore, which includes the Horn of Africa. And the politics, the political economy of exploiting that entire region’s natural resources, is coming to the fore once again. Indeed, the new prime minister of Ethiopia on his recent tour and his recent reconciliation with Eritrea, the struggle over ports in Berbera in Somaliland, over Djibouti, over the islands of the Red Sea, and the war in Yemen is all intertwined in a very interesting story, which is really beginning to flesh out in the last couple of months.

And this is why Hodeidah and the whole coast of Yemen is so important. Because if indeed they can isolate that area, they actually don’t have to bother with the people living in the mountains, the 18 million people. They can just compete- can continuously isolate them, and then continue on with plans to develop this whole area along the western coast of southwest Arabia. Which would then allow for signs of subsequent infrastructure projects which had been in the works before this war started in 2015, which I mentioned in the book.

AARON MATE: All right. We’ll leave it there, pick it up in Part 2. My guest is Isa Blumi, associate professor at Stockholm University, author of Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About the World.