Prof. Asad Abukhalil argues that the UN Human Rights Council’s report on Yemen acknowledges US and UK complicity in the war crimes being committed, but it still soft-pedals them because the US dominates the body
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert.
In what is considered the deadliest airstrike of the year, Saudi-led forces bombed a detention facility in the western city of Dhamar in Western Yemen, killing about 100 people on Sunday. The prison was under control of the Houthi rebels. Senator Bernie Sanders condemned the attack via Twitter, reminding his followers that the US is deeply involved in the war in Yemen. Sanders wrote, “U.S. bombs, logistical support and intelligence for the Saudi dictatorship’s airstrike make us complicit in this nightmare. Congress has declared this war unconstitutional. We must now stand up to Trump and defund all US Involvement in these horrors.”
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The deadly bombing in the Yemen took place shortly before the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report on Tuesday, which condemned US, French and British complicity in the atrocities being committed by Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen. The 274-page report says that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the parties to the conflict in Yemen are responsible for an array of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. Some of these violations are likely to amount to war crimes.” Here’s a clip from the video that the UN Human Rights Council released to accompany the report.
VIDEO CLIP: [slow music]
GREG WILPERT: Joining me now to discuss the latest developments in Yemen and the UN HRC report is As’ad AbuKhalil. He is professor of Political Acience at California State University at Stanislaus. Thanks for joining us again, As’ad.
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you for inviting me.
GREG WILPERT: Let’s start with the increasingly complicated situation in Yemen. Just when we thought the war in Yemen could not get any worse, a new front of fighting has opened up when the United Arab Emirates threw its support behind a separatist movement in Southern Yemen. The separatists recently took control of the port city of Aden. And last week Emirati jets bombed convoys of government forces, preventing them from retaking Aden. Previously, the UAE and Saudi Arabia were fighting the Houthis and rebels together. Tell us what is going on. What is the UAE doing and why are they backing a separatist movement at this time?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I think it’s very important to comment first on the intro regarding the United Nations report. I’m not holding my breath, and the audience should not, regarding what the United Nations may do or may not do. We know that the UN is subject to one, the imposition of the will of the United States, and two, financial power and clout of Saudi Arabia, which can erase its listing on countries which violate children’s rights and so on. We’ve seen a history of that, so I think justice should be served somewhere else. Second point about what Bernie Sanders said, and I think we should add beyond what he said, that this is true of all the wars in the Middle East. The US is an accomplice in Israeli war crimes and Saudi war crimes and all the crimes that occur in the region because the US is the sponsor of almost all the despots of the region.
The third point about Bernie Sanders’s comment is that we cannot lay this on the doorsteps of Trump alone. We know that this should also be blamed on the administration which inaugurated its intervention in Yemen on the side of these Gulf despots. That is the Obama administration, Samantha Power, and all these liberals who are now critical of the war in Yemen only after Obama left office.
On the regional conflict going there, we should remember that there is no harmony between Saudi Arabia and UAE. They are together if there is a project they can work on together. They are united along with the Israeli state in order to oppose Iran because they have their own agenda and they want to fight Palestinian and Arab resistance movements throughout the Middle East. On that, they agree, but on many others they disagree. They disagree about the regional conflict, about OPEC policies, about how to handle Iran and many of these issues, there is no complete agreement. Of course, the UAE has not been happy about Saudi domination in the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is a council established by the United States to counter Iran after the Iranian revolution.
Within Yemen itself, there is also a rivalry between the two sides, I mean before this war and after, and the complicity of US and Britain and Israel. We need to mention Israel in this role because it was left out of the UN report. The war in Yemen has been going on, on and off since the 1960s. Ever since, there was a progressive agenda pushed by the Nasser regime and leftists of the Arab world to establish a progressive foothold in the darkness of Arabia. It is dark by virtue of the Saudi regional hegemony, which does not want any progress, woman’s rights, and social justice in that region.
We have to remember that the only Marxist state ever established in the Arab world was in South Yemen, and it was brought down by the cooperative forces of Israel, US, Europeans and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia invested heavily to bring down that regime and ever since this investment, first, in the Yemeni War of the 1960s, which Israel was also involved, and in this Yemeni conflict, we see that the Yemeni people have been manipulated, exploited by Saudi Arabia and by its allies and sponsors in the West. In the recent flare-up, since 2011 with the rise of Arab uprisings— I don’t want to call them the so-called Arab Spring, because that’s an insult to the innocent people who were killed throughout the region— there has been an Arab counter-revolution. The Arab counter-revolution is basically comprised of the United States, Western Europeans, Israel and Saudi Arabia and UAE and Qatar. Although, these three countries, the last three Gulf countries, are not always in harmony. They disagree.
UAE and Qatar disagree on who to support in Libya. Saudi Arabia and UAE disagree on who to support in Yemen. For example, the Saudis have been willing to work with Al-Islah, the Muslim Brotherhood faction inside Yemen, but the UAE is adamantly opposed to any alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, so they support a different side. The fact that there are regional and tribal divisions in Yemen is a legacy of Saudi policies in that country, how they have exploited tribes and clans there in order to undermine any attempt to bring unification to Yemen and to undermine any efforts of progressiveness to take a foothold inside that country.
It seems to me that UAE for the last three years is the basically not less famous regional hegemon of the Middle East. We hear a lot about MBS, Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, but we hear less of a less flamboyant ruler, despot, Mohammad bin Zayed of the UAE, who, while pursuing policies as destructive and as war-mongering as MBS, but he keeps a lower profile. On many files, he has been a champion of MBS in Saudi Arabia, but up to a point because he has his regional ambitions.
His regional ambitions has took him to fight with the Americans in Afghanistan, to send troops to Libya, to invest in a coup d’état in Egypt against a democratically-elected president, and now we’re seeing they are trying to divide the spoils of war before a peaceful settlement is imposed by the outside. I think the Americans have realized, despite their own largesse and the willingness to allow the Saudis and the UAE to commit as many war crimes as they wish, that it’s not going anywhere and they have not been able to bring the Houthis down. If anything, the Houthis have become more defined. It’s for those reasons there is a fight between the two sides.
GREG WILPERT: I wanted to return to the UN report in a moment, but first, I actually want to address what you just said about the peace talks and the possibility of a settlement. They’ve been going on for a while and there has been a ceasefire agreement for the port city of Hodeidah to allow in humanitarian aid. What’s the status of these talks and do you think that they have any prospects of really resulting in an agreement, given this increasingly complicated moment that we’ve been talking about?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I think that Americans have realized that no matter how many war crimes the Saudis and the UAE are allowed to commit in Yemen, it is not going anywhere and they have not been able to decrease the zone of dominance of the Houthis. It’s for that reason the Americans have given up and I think they may be pushing the two sides in order to reach an agreement with the Houthis, and there has been even a Wall Street Journal article about possible talks between the Houthis and the Americans. There is some movement and I think the recent flare-up could be related to the news of a possible settlement and the UAE want to be the dominant factor replacing Saudi Arabia.
This is rather new because UAE and other Gulf countries have ceded the Yemeni zone for the Saudis to do there what they wish, but it seems that UAE is exploiting a moment of weakness for MBS, because he has his own troubles inside the country. He has his reputation, image abroad in the West and so on. He is trying to rise as the new regional hegemon. This is why the Saudis have not been taking kindly to what’s happening. For the first time, I would say, in many years, you can read in the Saudi press grumblings and complaints about what the UAE is doing.
GREG WILPERT: Let’s turn to the UN HCR report. The report says that war crimes are probably being committed in Yemen and that Western powers— particularly the US, UK, France, and also actually Iran— bare shared responsibility for these crimes. Tens of thousands have been killed since the war began in 2014, with millions facing famine and cholera, as we saw in that brief video clip. The report addresses the governments that are supporting the Saudi war efforts stating, “Considering the prevailing risk that arms provided to parties to the conflict in Yemen may be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, states should prohibit the authorization of transfers and refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict to such parties.”
As Sanders’s tweet stated, Congress has already tried to halt US support for the war, but the Trump administration vetoed the legislation. Just how great do you think is the US, UK, French and Iranian responsibility for what is happening, and why are they continuing to support the Saudi war effort?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I think that, two comments on that. First, as usual with all Western human rights organizations, and as usual with the United Nations reports when it comes to war crimes and human rights violation by countries that are loyal to the US, notice the qualified language. If this is Iran or Syria, you would find countries that are not aligned with the US. You would find the categorical language about certain war crimes have occurred in this region and that conflict and so on. We find here a very mild language that is not certified. The second point about that is, as usual in, again, Western human rights organizations as well as UN reports about human rights violations by countries that are allied with the US and Israel, we find that the propensity is always to blame both sides. The victims have to be blamed.
The victims here are the people of Yemen. First of all, if you go to WikiLeaks, the Houthis is an own Indigenous movement in South Yemen. They have their own agenda. They did not have any regional ambitions or even associations. In WikiLeaks, it said that all of the news in Gulf countries regarding this association with Iran are highly exaggerated. It is fair to say that it is the war of aggression by Saudi Arabia and UAE and the US on Yemen, that it has pushed the Houthis into the lap of Iran. They felt they had no choice.
In that context, if you want to argue who has been responsible, first for the ignition of this war, and two, for the prolongation of this war, there is no question why there are two sides fighting and why there have been human rights violations by the Houthis. The responsibility, the bulk of responsibility, should be laid on the blame of those who started the war and who have prolonged the war, and that is Saudi Arabia, UAE and the sponsors in the West, along with Israel on their side.
GREG WILPERT: We’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to As’ad AbuKhalil, Professor of Political science at Cal State Stanislaus. Thanks again, As’ad, for having joined us today.
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you very much. Have a good day.
GREG WILPERT: Thank you for joining The Real News Network.