Updated: April 25, 2015
Former UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has given an undiplomatic assessment of the crisis in that country, in which he rhetorically explodes Saudi myths “justifying” the US-backed aerial bombing campaign. The Moroccan diplomat told media at the weekend that the ongoing conflict was a direct result of Houthi rebels having been excluded from the political process last year.
Furthermore, Benomar went on to say unequivocally that during his tenure as UN envoy in Yemen he saw no evidence of Iranian involvement stirring the country’s strife.
That testimony debunks the Western media-contrived whitewash of the continuing Saudi slaughter in Yemen – a slaughter that is being aided and abetted, politically and militarily, by Washington.
Benomar resigned from his diplomatic post last week after three years of being charged with facilitating political talks between Yemeni rebels and the US, Saudi-backed regime of now-ousted president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Benomar’s task had always been a futile one because the foreign sponsors of the Hadi regime were never interested in a genuine transition to a more democratic, representative government in the Arab Peninsula country.
The US, Saudi-backed puppet-president Hadi, who was elected in an uncontested ballot in February 2012, was only ever supposed to hold a transitional office for a year, while in theory overseeing the formation of an elected, fully representative government.
For three years, Hadi under the tutelage of Washington reneged on promises to hand over power to a more democratic constitution. Among those shut out from the transition were the northern-based Houthis. When Hadi and his ruling clique refused to fulfil promises, the Houthis took over government institutions by force and deposed the so-called caretaker president at the beginning of this year.
That account of events has now been substantiated by the former UN envoy, who more than anyone is best-placed to make a call, having had a ringside seat in Yemen for three years.
Benomar’s more recent diplomatic task of trying to re-engage Yemeni opponents in talks was again made impossible because the Gulf Arab backers of the Hadi regime – in particular Saudi Arabia – refused to countenance engagement of the Houthi rebels. This is because the Arab dictators are implacably opposed to allowing a wider franchise in the formation of a new government in Yemen, one that would have genuine democratic participation. Benomar’s resignation last week was prompted by muted antagonism from the Saudi and Qatari rulers.
Saudi Arabia launched an aerial bombing campaign on Yemen on March 26, along with support from other Arab dictatorships, including Egypt, Jordan and the Persian Gulf monarchies of Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The United States has given full political backing to the bombing campaign along with supply of munitions and logistical targeting of air strikes.
The constant air strikes on Yemen for more than three weeks has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. Last week, eight civilians, including a mother and three children, were killed when a school in Malahidh region near the Saudi border was hit in an air strike. The true death toll of the Saudi-led bombing campaign may be several thousand, much more than official UN figures, according to Yemeni military and medical sources.
The military intervention has been denounced by Russia, China and Iran, with all three countries calling for an immediate halt to the violence. A Russian draft resolution put to the UN Security Council last week calling for a humanitarian ceasefire was rejected by the US and its Arab allies. But an alternative resolution was passed, despite Russia’s abstention, that imposes an arms embargo on the Yemeni rebels.
Washington and its Arab allies have claimed that the Houthis illegally overthrew the Hadi “government”. Their justification for the all-out bombing campaign is that they are responding to the “legitimate requests for assistance” from “President Hadi” who last month fled to Saudi Arabia. Last week, in the Saudi capital Riyadh, a “deputy president” of Yemen was sworn into office and continues to reside in the Saudi capital, along with Hadi. This remnant regime in exile can therefore hardly be construed as a “legitimate government”.
Moreover, there are clear double standards over the way Washington in particular has tried to uphold the Hadi regime compared with the way it immediately delegitimised the deposed president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych. At least Yanukovych was constitutionally elected and had a democratic mandate from a large section of the Ukrainian population. The ousted Yemeni nominal president can make no such claims.
Former UN envoy Jamal Benomar clearly makes the US and Saudi “justifications” for their actions in Yemen untenable. Hadi was an unscrupulous, dishonest broker who had long abused his transitional office for the purpose of obstructing democratic transition, in accordance with the geopolitical wishes of his foreign masters.
The other disclosure by Benomar that Iran has conducted no covert interference in Yemen is equally significant. The alleged subversive role of Iran trying go expand Shia influence in the region has also been held up by the Saudis and the US-coordinated bombing coalition as another “justification”. That rationale never posited an acceptable legal argument anyway, even if there had been some Iranian involvement in supporting the popular uprising spearheaded by the Houthis. But what Benomar is saying is that there is not a scintilla of Iranian malfeasance.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iran over allegedly “destabilising the region” and he used the claim to rationalise American support for the bombing of Yemen. Kerry claimed without citing specific evidence that Iran was flying in weapons to Houthi rebels. How the Iranians could carry out such a mission while hundreds of Arab warplanes have imposed a no-fly zone over Yemen was not explained by the imaginative Kerry.
Besides, the Iranian government and the Houthi rebels have both strenuously denied any such military connection. Several other independent monitors have also rejected the notion that Iran had infiltrated the country with “fifth columnists” and military supplies.
With the Iranian “bogeyman” factor nullified, that strips the US, Saudi bombing of Yemen down to what it is: criminal foreign aggression.
The broad swathe of Yemeni public have from the outset denounced the foreign coalition as foreign aggression. A Yemeni Army Colonel Sharaf Luqman was quoted by Al Manar news agency as calling the US-Arab bombing a “war crime”. He listed the civilian infrastructure destroyed so far to include government buildings, power plants and fuel depots, hospitals, schools, family residences, mosques, markets and businesses.
“Saudi Arabia is the international supporter of terrorism. It is hiring foreign armies because its troops cannot dare to fight in Yemen,” noted Colonel Luqman.
Another Yemeni Army source, Colonel Adel Sattar al Boushali, said that Saudi Arabia had recently sent up to 5,000 Takfiri Al Qaeda mercenaries into Yemen to step up the ground war. The mercenaries, he said, had been relocated from Syria, where they have been waging a covert war on behalf of Western and Arab allies to topple the government of Bashar al Assad.
The US, Saudi criminality in Yemen is thus emerging as both egregious and transparent. There is not a shred of justification for their military operations. Civilians are being mass murdered and a country – the poorest in the region – is being destroyed simply because the foreign powers are refusing to give way to a democratic uprising. These powers are trying to bludgeon the democratic will of the Yemeni people in order to reinstall a discredited, unelected regime that serves to suppress democracy.
Meanwhile over the weekend, the “benevolent” Saudi rulers announced that they were pledging $275 million in “humanitarian aid” to Yemen. How depraved is that? Bombing and massacring with one hand, and then with the other handing out bandages and analgesics to mutilated children.
Surely, a day of judgement is urgently needed whereby Washington and its despotic Arab allies are prosecuted for war crimes in Yemen.
Houthi Arms Bonanza Came From Saleh, Not Iran
Claims Iran is supplying the Houthis with weapons ignore the fact the group was already flush with American arms from ex-president Saleh
As the Saudi bombing campaign against Houthi targets in Yemen continues, notwithstanding a temporary pause, the corporate media narrative about the conflict in Yemen is organised decisively around the idea that it is a proxy war between Iran on one side and the Saudis and United States on the other.
USA Today responded like Pavlov’s dog this week to a leak by Pentagon officials that it was sending the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to the waters off Yemen, supposedly to intercept Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthis. It turned out that the warship was being sent primarily to symbolise US support for the Saudis, and the Pentagon made no mention of Iranian arms when it announced the move. But the story of the US navy intercepting Iranian arms was irresistible, because it fit so neatly into the larger theme of Iran arming and training the Houthis as its proxy military force in Yemen.
News stories on Yemen in recent months have increasingly incorporated a sentence or even a paragraph invoking the accusation that Iran has been arming the Houthis and using them to gain power in the Gulf. The State Department’s principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Gerald Feierstein nourished that narrative in Congressional testimony last week depicting Iran as having provided “financial support, weapons, training and intelligence” to the Houthis. Feierstein acknowledged that the Houthi movement is “not controlled directly by Iran”, but claimed a “significant growth in Iranian engagement” with the Houthis in the past year.
Like most popular myths the dominant narrative of the Houthi movement as Iranian proxy in Yemen is based on a kernel of truth: the Houthis share the Iranians’ dim views of American intentions in the Middle East and have sought to take advantage of the Hezbollah model to enhance their political-military effectiveness.
Houthis rise – myth and reality
But the assumption that the Houthis have been looking to Iran to train their troops or supply their need for weapons ignores the most basic facts of their ascendance. The Houthis built up their military forces from virtually nothing to as many 100,000 troops today through a series of six wars with Yemeni government troops. In the process they have not only become much better trained, but have acquired a vast pool of arms from Yemen’s black market. A United Nations Experts’ report earlier this year cites estimates that Yemen is awash with 40 to 60 million weapons. The Houthis were also getting a continuing stream of modern arms directly from corrupt Yemeni military commanders from 2004 through 2010.
And in their eagerness to conform to the general theme of an Iran vs US-Saudi proxy war in Yemen, the media’s treatment of alleged Iranian arms to the Houthis has ignored the fact that the Houthis had forged an alliance by early 2014 with a far larger source of arms: former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was that alliance that propelled the Houthis into power last September, not their ties with Iran.
After Saleh was forced to step down as president in 2012, the government supposedly reorganised the military and Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali Saleh was ousted as commander of the Republican Guard. But in fact Saleh continued to control the military through his allies in most of the command positions. When the Houthi advanced on Sanaa last September, it was all carefully choreographed by Saleh. The Houthis were able to take one Yemeni military facility after another without a fight and enter the capital easily.
Houthi weapon bonanza – a gift from America
In the process, the Houthis acquired a new bonanza of weapons that had been provided by the United States over the previous eight years. According to Pentagon documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act by Joseph Trevithick, the Defence Department had delivered about $500 million in military hardware to the Yemeni military from 2006 on. The gusher of new US arms included Russian-made helicopters, more than 100 Humvees with the latest armor packages, 100s of pickup trucks, rocket propelled grenades, advanced radios, night vision goggles and millions of rounds of ammunition.
A significant part of that weaponry and equipment was scooped up by Houthi fighters on their way into Sanaa and has been visible in the months since then. When the Houthis advanced into Aden 1 April, residents reported seeing four tanks and three armored vehicles as well as Rocket propelled grenades. On 29 March, after the Saudi bombing campaign had begun, the Houthis were reported to have had control of the Yemeni Air Force’s 16 fighter planes, of which eleven had been destroyed by the bombing.
In light of the reality that the Houthis are already flush with American arms that may be worth as much as hundreds of millions of dollars, the flurry of media excitement over the US Navy sending another warship to intercept an Iranian flotilla of arms is an odd bit of burlesque that ought to be in an embarrassment.
The one concrete allegation that has been invoked by media stories in recent months is the case of a ship called Jihan 1, said to have been laden with Iranian arms, that was intercepted in early 2013. A Reuters story last December cited a list a list of all the items on board provided by a “senior Yemeni security official,” which included Katyusha rifles, RPGs-7s, tons of RDX explosives and surface-to-air missiles.
Jihan 1 – murky claims
But the Hadi government never provided any evidence that the ship was sent by Iran or was intended for the Houthis. And most of the items mentioned were not even Iranian-manufactured weapons. The one odd exception was a reference to “Iranian-made night vision goggles”. That fact suggests that the ship was intended to provide arms to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which carries out large numbers of terrorist bombings and would have needed the large supplies of RDX. The Houthis, on the other hand, are not known to have used that explosive. The UN expert panel formed to support the UN Security Council sanctions against Houthi commanders and Saleh reported that it had been “unable to independently confirm the allegation” about the Jihan 1.
The Reuters story, published months after the Houthis had acquired a large portion of the Yemeni army’s American arms, quoted a second Yemeni security official as still claiming that Iranian weapons “are still coming in by sea and there’s money coming in through transfers”.
Reuters further claimed that a “senior Iranian official,” contradicting official Iranian denials, had told the news agency that “the pace of money and arms getting to the Houthis had increased since their seizure of Sanaa.” The official allegedly said there were hundreds of IRGC personnel training the Houthis and six Iranian military advisers in Yemen. That part of the story appears suspicious to say the least.
The politically convenient story line that the Houthis are proxies of Iran is hardly new. As a US diplomatic cable from Sanaa in 2009 reveals, the Yemeni government had waged a continuing campaign for years during its wars with the Houthis to persuade the United States that Iran and Hezbollah were arming and training the Houthis, but had never produced any real evidence to support the claim.
Ties between the Houthis and Iran undoubtedly exist, driven by a common distrust of American and Saudi roles in Yemen and the Houthis’ need for an ideology that would enhance their power. But the slack-jawed media approach to the story – starting with its refusal to put the allegations of continuing Iran arms smuggling to the Houthis in the context of the Houthis bonanza of US arms – has produced the usual fog of misinformation and confusion.
Updated: April 25, 2015
Houthi arms came from Saleh, not Iran
TheRealNews on Apr 24, 2015
Gareth Porter says claims Iran is supplying Houthis with weapons ignore group was flush with American arms from ex-president Saleh.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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