Bloody deadlock in Yemen : why do we keep silent ?

Saturday’s terrible saudi air bombing of a funeral ceremony in Yemen, killing more than 140 people, has caused the US to “question” their support to the saudi-led coalition engaged in the yemeni war. France, a supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, has kept silent so far, an embarrassing position compared to its UN offensive against the Russians at the UN Security Council over its bombing of the syrian city of Aleppo. Here is what I wrote in the french magazine L’Obs last august.

Some eighteen months ago, Saudi Arabia gathered a large arab sunni coalition, with the support of France and other western countries, and started an air campaign against the houthi rebellion in its southern neighbour, Yemen.

Hundreds of air raids, more than 6000 deaths, mostly civilians, and two million refugees later, this war has produced no other results than destroying a country and push new recruits into the arms of the most radical forces.

The number one objective, which was to block Iran, suspected of supporting the Houthis of Zaidi faith, a remote branch of chiism, has not been reached, and Yemen’s sectarian divisions have only been reinforced.

Largely ignored by public opinions, and pushed in the shadow by the syrian conflict, this war has become a source of embarassment for Saudi Arabia’s allies.

This is particularly the case when jets from the coalition, mainly saudi and emirati, make no mercy and target civilians. Markets, schools, medical structures, have been hit in a proportion than do not allow for “collateral damage”. One of the last targets was a Doctors without borders (MSF by its french name) hospital in Abs, north-west of the country, leaving 19 dead and dozens of injured.

MSF decided to withdraw its medical teams from the country, considering that, despite the belligerants promises, it could not guarantee the security of its staff and patients. More than a hundred medial structures have been hit in eighteen months of war.

The US, who were not a key player in the start of this war, have started distancing themselves by withdrawing 40 out of 45 advisers who had been committed to the saudi headquarters of this campaign. Washington denies any connection between the announcement of this staff reduction and the civilian casualties, even if the timing reinforced this feeling.

As for France, it has condemned the targeting of hospitals, but does not act although it also has a major implication in this war. In addition to political support given to the campaign from day 1 of the birth of the arab coalition, Paris is linked to the Saudis and their allies by major arms sales, vital contracts for France in these times of economic hardships. Each new contract, as this last summer with a 1-billion euros Caracal helicopters sold to Kuwait, the French government points to the jobs attached to them.

But this dimension cannot hide th fact that France is selling weapons to countries at war, and that, in the case of Yemen, this war is in a bloody deadlock.

French academic Laurent Bonnefoy, one of the best experts in France on Yemen, already wrote in the online journal OrientXXI, after six months of war :

“it should be clear to everyone that the saudi air raids have only pushed towards the worse an already complex conflict”.

He feared a syrian-type war. More than a year later, events prove him ritght. The map of the yemeni conflict, just like Syria’s, looks like a leopard skin, with houthi zones, regions faithful to president Hadi backed by Saudi Arabia, indepent militias, Al-Qaeda-held pockets, and the rise of an Islamic State-related djihadi activity.

As in Syria, civilians pay the heaviest price for the ambitions of local leaders and regional powers.