Iran’s Press TV news agency reported Monday that Saudi Arabia had allegedly attempted to kill two Saudi pilots whose Tornado jet had been shot down on Feb. 14 by new Houthi air defenses. Saudi Arabia has admitted the “possibility of collateral damage,” in its response which it called a “search and rescue operation.” Monday, The Straight Times cited a UN humanitarian office as reporting that 31 civilians were killed during the Saudi strikes on the area of the wrecked plane.
Last Sunday, the Houthi unveiled four new air defense systems which they say are made in Yemen and will assist in their struggle against Saudi and allied forces. The Houthi claim they will eventually release information on the fate of the downed pilots.
The Houthi are a splinter group of Zaidiyyah Shi’a Muslims who take their sectarian beliefs and their name from the founder of the sect, Hussein Al-Houthi. This revivalist Zaidist movement grew as a reaction to the presence of Wahhabi Salafism in Yemen’s Saada governorate. Al-Houthi’s movement grew out of the cultural freedom granted by Democracy in the 1990’s, when he helped to create the Haqq political party. Around that time, the political Zaidis established the Believing Youth Forum. Al-Houthi later became part of the Forum, and pressed his views upon them, which led to a division between himself and others. His followers became known as the Houthi.
Between 2004 and 2015, the Houthi constantly warred against the Saudi-backed government of Yemen, transitioning from guerrilla fighters into an advanced fighting force. In Jan. 2015, the Houthi marched on Yemen’s capital Sanaa, which caused the President at the time, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, to flee to Aden and then to Saudi Arabia. The Houthi opposed a constitution which would have separated Yemen into six federal regions. They also accused Hadi’s government of willfully harboring Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Shortly afterwards, foreign powers became more involved with the United States and Saudi Arabia backing Hadi against the Houthi, allegedly due to the Houthi stopping an advance against AQAP.
Press Release Newswire Services reported Monday that the Houthi have been abusing members of the Yemeni Baha’i community, as twenty-four members appeared in court Tuesday in what has been called a “religiously-motivated sham trial.” The Houthi have alleged to have used electrocutions and beatings against their detainees.
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, spoke in Germany last Friday with German Forgein Minister Heiko Maas and accused the Houthi of being unserious about resolving the crisis through a political solution. The Saudi minister also lauded the international community’s decision to support a blocking of aid to the Houthi. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) stated late on Monday that aid will be blocked beginning in March if the Houthi don’t meet demands that they end their obstruction of aid operations.
Ex-CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi royal family in Riyad on Friday. Immediately afterwards he spoke with the Washington Free Beacon and expressed the USA’s commitment to Saudi Arabia against the threat of Iran and its influence in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. In early February the NY Times cited US officials as claiming a CIA airstrike killed the leader of AQAP Qasim Al-Raymi. Last Sunday, the SITE Intelligence Group report confirmed the death of Al-Raymi and named Khalid bin Umar Batarfi as his successor.
The CIA has gradually taken over the role of counter-terrorism from the US Department of Defense (DoD) in Yemen over the last 18 years. Its drone assassination program has been touted as a success in Afghanistan but has performed targeted strikes backed up by ground-level intelligence in Yemen as far back as 2002. At times that intelligence has been gathered by the UK Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). In 2010, the CIA denied the existence of the program, but the ACLU pushed for years to get them to finally admit to it in 2013. Some legal experts have questioned the rationale for a CIA program when the DoD could take the lead. However, the answer seems to lay in the program’s legal ability to continue, even in the absence of the host country’s willingness to allow it.
In 2015, the US closed an embassy in Sanaa. Dozens of CIA staffers were evacuated with a total of about two hundred Americans, after the collapse of the Yemeni government. The Obama administration took measures to reduce the role of the CIA in drone strikes, moving that role to the DoD. Under the Trump administration the CIA has been given more autonomy to make decisions to strike. According to NBC News in September of 2017 President Trump directed then-incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take a more aggressive posture, and soon afterwards CIA drone strikes did increase.
In December of 2018 the US Senate voted to oppose the war in Yemen. Later the same day, senators voted to condemn the Saudi assassination of The Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. In July of 2019 President Trump vetoed legislation aimed at blocking the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia, for the suffering of the Yemeni people and the assassination of Khashoggi. Mike Pompeo at the time defended the sale of weapons to the Saudis due to the alleged threat from Iran.
Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has been relentlessly pounding Yemen with munitions and weapons supplied by France, the UK and the USA. The Saudis have also purchased arms from Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, Canada and Finland. Between 2013 and 2017, Saudi Arabia purchased about 9 billion US dollars in weapons from the USA alone, accounting for about 18 percent of the USA’s total weapons sales.
Saudi Arabia has increased its arms imports by over ten times between 2008 and 2017. In 2008 it imported over $390 million in weapons. In 2017 it imported over $4.1 billion. Despite public outcry over the assassination of Kashoggi, the only countries to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia are the ones that didn’t sell them as much to begin with, including Spain and Germany.
According to recent estimates almost 7,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen, mostly by Saudi airstrikes. Many of those have been children. Roughly 11,000 civilians have been injured. Tens of thousands are displaced, and millions are malnourished, lack basic healthcare and desperately need humanitarian assistance.
As recent events have inflamed the situation in Yemen and around the region, a political solution is being sought by stakeholders in the conflict. The Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY) announced on their website that a consultative meeting of various political and public figures from Yemen will take place in Amman, Jordan. There, the focus will be on approaches to resumption of peace talks under the auspices of the United Nations.