Embracing the Saudi War on Yemen

Exclusive: Fearful of further offending the powerful Saudi-Israeli alliance, President Obama is deploying the U.S. Navy to seal off poverty-stricken Yemen so the Saudi air force has free rein to pummel its regional rivals from the air while the population faces a humanitarian crisis on the ground, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As the humanitarian crisis in Yemen worsens, the Obama administration seems less concerned about the plight of the desperate Yemeni people than the feelings of the Saudi royals who have spent the last month indiscriminately bombing a nearly defenseless Yemen, using high-tech U.S. jets and bombs to reportedly kill hundreds of civilians and damage its ancient cities.

On Friday, the Obama administration took credit for blocking nine Iranian ships from reaching Yemen with relief supplies, claiming that the ships may have carried weapons that the Yemenis could use in their civil war or to defend against Saudi attacks. President Barack Obama had dispatched a U.S. aircraft carrier fleet to the Yemeni coast to enforce an embargo that has helped the Saudis seal off the country from outside help.

President and Mrs. Obama disembark from Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on Jan. 27, 2015, for a state visit to Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President and Mrs. Obama disembark from Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on Jan. 27, 2015, for a state visit to Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A person closely involved with the Yemen crisis told me that the Iranian ships carried food and medicine, not weapons, but turned back to avoid the risk and humiliation of being boarded by the U.S. Navy. Meanwhile, Yemen, already one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, is facing shortages of basic supplies since the Saudis have cut off normal trade routes into Yemen.

Yet, despite the suffering of Yemen, the U.S. government appears more worried about the sensitivities of Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the region. A Defense Department official, speaking anonymously, told the New York Times that it was “important that the Saudis know that we have an arm around their shoulders.”

Defense Department officials also acknowledged that they didn’t know what type of cargo was being transported aboard the Iranian ships, the Times reported. Though the Obama administration had touted the possibility that the Iranian ships carried weapons, the decision by Iran to avoid a confrontation may have reflected Tehran’s desire not to worsen relations with the United States and thus disrupt fragile negotiations over international guarantees to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful.

But the losers in this military/diplomatic maneuvering appear to be the Yemenis who, in effect, face a Saudi strategy of starving the country into submission with the help of the United States. While U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power built her public image as a “humanitarian interventionist” asserting a “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations, she has said little about the Saudi role in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

In a statement on April 14, at the height of the Saudi bombing campaign, Power made no mention of the Saudi attacks or the hundreds of civilian dead from Saudi bombs supplied by the United States. She instead focused her denunciations on the Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who have joined forces in a civil war that ousted sitting President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who then fled to Saudi Arabia.

Power primarily blamed the Houthis, who “have intensified their military campaign, bombed Aden, and extended their offensive to Yemen’s south. These actions have caused widespread violence and instability that threaten the security and welfare of the Yemeni people, as well as the region’s security.”

Though the Saudi air force has bombed a number of cities including the ancient port city of Aden, Power ignored those attacks in her statement. But Power was not alone in her solicitousness toward the Saudis. On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry even endorsed the Saudi bombing of Houthi targets in Yemen.

Who Are the Houthis?

The Houthis adhere to the Zaydi sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam but one that is considered relatively close to Sunni Islam and that peacefully co-existed with Sunni Islam for centuries. But the Houthis have been resisting what they regard as government persecution in recent decades.

As revealed in leaked U.S. government cables and documented by Human Rights Watch, Yemen’s government used U.S. military aid to support an all-out assault against the Houthis in 2009. HRW said Yemeni government forces indiscriminately shelled and bombed civilian areas, causing significant civilian casualties and violating the laws of war. This repression of the Houthis led to an escalation last fall which ended with the Houthi rebels, who allied themselves with army forces loyal to ex-President Saleh, capturing Sanaa and other major cities.

After these victories, in private contacts with American officials, the Houthis indicated their readiness to take the fight to Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. However, since the Saudi airstrikes began a month ago, “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” has taken advantage of the limitations on Houthi rebel movements by grabbing more territory in the east and overrunning a prison that held a number of Al-Qaeda militants.

The Saudi royals have a complicated relationship with Al-Qaeda including some princes who are viewed as important financiers of the terror group. The Saudis also promote the same extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism. Now, instead of concentrating on the terror threat from Al-Qaeda, the Saudis have sought to portray the Yemeni civil war as a proxy assault in Saudi Arabia’s backyard by Shiite-ruled Iran.

In that propaganda effort, the Saudis have been helped by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has relied on the powerful Israel Lobby and his own rhetoric to divert the U.S. Congress from a focus on Al-Qaeda and its hyper-brutal spinoff, the Islamic State, to Iran, which both Saudi Arabia and Israel have designated their primary regional enemy.

In his March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress, Netanyahu cited Yemen as one of the Mideast countries that Iran has been “gobbling up.” Many regional experts, however, considered Netanyahu’s assertion ludicrous given the Houthis’ reputation for stubborn independence.

For instance, former CIA official Graham E. Fuller called the notion “that the Houthis represent the cutting edge of Iranian imperialism in Arabia as trumpeted by the Saudis” a “myth.” He added:

“The Zaydi Shia, including the Houthis, over history have never had a lot to do with Iran. But as internal struggles within Yemen have gone on, some of the Houthis have more recently been happy to take Iranian coin and perhaps some weapons, just as so many others, both Sunni and Shia, are on the Saudi payroll. The Houthis furthermore hate al-Qaeda and hate the Islamic State.”

But the Obama administration remains sensitive to Israeli-Saudi criticism of its efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear dispute. So, to demonstrate that the Americans are comforting the Saudi royals with “an arm around their shoulders,” the U.S. government is embracing the Saudi bombardment of a largely defenseless country and is turning back ships carrying relief supplies.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Money Seal the Israeli-Saudi Alliance?”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

8 comments for “Embracing the Saudi War on Yemen

  1. Equator
    April 30, 2015 at 04:03

    It is such an old and known US game.
    US tells a country it wants its oil or whatever or US wants a country to change regime.
    That country says NO.
    That country is from then on aggressive.
    Now US tells the world US has to defend itself against that county’s aggression or “give aid”.
    Then the chaos starts. Demonstrations start.
    US picks their puppet and … whoops before the people realize they have another leader or a destructed country.
    Due to every US big corporation wants to make money out of it,
    a war starts.
    Big Business is rolling.
    The peoples suffering start from then on.


  2. Gregory Kruse
    April 27, 2015 at 07:43

    How can I insult the intelligence I don’t have?

    • Equator
      April 30, 2015 at 04:05

      YES WE CAN

  3. Peter Loeb
    April 26, 2015 at 05:58


    This Administration, not unlike most of its predecessors, is focused on its
    relationship to the US Congress. Israel’s AIPAC plays a central role here
    but it is not the only player.

    A powerful (dominant) role is that played by weapons makers. The vast
    majority originate in the US although parts have gone “offshore”.
    BASIC STRUCTURE: MacDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing (which
    keeps its commercial business separate from its defense business).
    This is called “McBoeing”. Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta and
    is referred to as “LockMartin”. Raytheon merged with Hughes Aircraft
    to become “RayHughes”. In fact, these giants often work in concert.
    One corporation will manufacture the nose of a plane, another the
    tail and so forth. Traditionally the single customer was the US
    government which offered many perks such as “cost plus” contracts.
    Now the US government is purchasing less and less. Factories which
    were booming with business are now more often marked by their
    lack of “capacity”. Where many weapons were produced in World War
    Two, now there are many enormous plants nearly empty or only “kept
    warm”. Barely. These many nearly empty and redundant plants are
    placed politically in the constituencies of Members of Congress. As
    as result, politicians have an attachment to THEIR plants. Since
    they don’t want to be the bearer of bad news (the closing of plants
    etc.) and neither does the Executive Branch, this function has been
    delegated to the three gigantic major corporations. They compete
    for markets all over the world for sales of their weapons. Often
    there are deals at discounts, sometimes weapons are even given away.
    And if a small country is unable to pay, of course the company will
    “loan” it the funds with interest and on terms. Remember, the
    players are private corporations and foreign nations, not the US
    government per se. To the point, the economy of the US was be
    in dire trouble without the funding of its weapons industries. And
    in the process, no politician has to take the blame. That is
    for the private corporations. (For a thorough discussion see William

    While the present Administration wants us to believe of the inherant
    sinfulness of sending weapons around the globe (eg Iran), it encourages
    PRIVATE US corporations to be able to do so.

    Whatever is said for public consumption, everyone knows this.

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  4. Stefan
    April 25, 2015 at 20:49

    Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.

    At some point in time, and the time is nigh, the americans will have to make the active and immediate choice, of either trying to restore a constitutional govt (whatever that means or is understood to mean for americans), which is unlikely to happen, I don’t think there is a realistic chance for that to happen.

    Or the americans will have to wait for a financial (as well as moral and social) bankruptcy to overthrow a republic turned into a tyrannical dictatorship (although the rulers will not call it that) – and it is debatable whether this is not already in its baby steps.

    The latter scenario, at least, is better than radioactive dust overthrowing the regime – but unfortunately, most likely incinerates the planet as well.

  5. m
    April 25, 2015 at 19:11

    The caliphe is not what he seems to be.

    America is going after Yemen because Yemen people threw out the American puppet regime.

    American politicians are owned by every corporation, special interest, foreign government and crazy billionaire that has their price. As a consequence, Americans are murdering for money and power. Americans are mass murderers because they do not stand up to their corrupt government.

  6. m
    April 25, 2015 at 19:10

    The caliphe is not what he seems to be.

    America is going after Yemen because Yemen people threw out the American puppet regime.

    American politicians are owned by every corporation, special interest, foreign government and crazy billionaire that has their price. As a consequence, Americans are murdering for money and power. Americans are mass murderers because they do not stand up to their corrupt government.

  7. Drew Hunkins
    April 25, 2015 at 16:52

    It’s almost as if a quid pro quo is at play. The powerful pro-Israel lobby and the Saudis told Washington that they’ll call off their media lapdogs (to a limited degree at least) over the Obama Admn’s recent nuclear power agreement with Tehran, if at this point in time, you, Washington, give us carte blanche, and supply us with the armaments and diplomatic cover, to carry out our current bloody foray into Yemen.

    Of course the Saudis, and especially the ever powerful pro-Israel lobby, simply won’t limit their actions to Yemen, they’ll try to encroach wherever their interests and paranoid delusions encourage them to.

Comments are closed.