Yemen: two-faced leaders offer aid and arms sales

20 December 2017 marked the 1,000th day of the brutal war on Yemen. The coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched millions of pounds worth of advanced weaponry against the Houthi insurgency in the west of the country since the war began in 2015. Despite major military asymmetry, it has failed to make decisive progress. In November 2017, several missiles were launched by the Houthis at the Saudi royal palace in Riyadh. Following this, the coalition launched a total blockade to attempt to starve the Houthis and their allies into submission. The country has been devastated by this war, with the UN calling the situation ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ and charities and NGOs increasingly speaking out against the coalition’s actions. Despite some empty words condemning the blockade and promising aid, the war continues to have the full support of British and US imperialism. Arms sales, military support, and diplomatic invitations continue to flow to Saudi Arabia, one of British and US imperialism’s primary partners in the war to reshape the Middle East and fight the rising influence of Iran.

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Repression and torture: The British Labour Party and the liberation struggle in South Yemen

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 43 – October 1984

british troop yemen

The People's Republic of South Yemen is a small Arab nation of 33,600 sq km on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, and has a population of two million. It was born 17 years ago on 29 and 30 November 1967, following a bloody four-year guerrilla war. 129 years of British colonial rule was ended after a heroic struggle by the people of Aden and the hinterland of South Yemen against the military might and terror of the British armed forces and a succession of British-imposed schemes and manoeuvres designed to deny the people their right to self-determination. The crucial phase of the armed struggle for independence (1963-1967) took place when the British Labour Party government headed by Harold Wilson was in power. It was under this government that the most sustained repression and torture of Adeni and Yemeni patriots fighting for independence took place.

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Yemen: Britain's lucrative arms trade killing civilians

Destroyed house in the south of Sanaa

Saudi-led airstrikes continues to visit death and destruction on the people of western Yemen with British and US support. Figures revealed on 16 September by the Yemen Data Project showed that one in three airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition have hit civilian targets. The UN estimates the death toll as more than 10,000, with almost 40% civilians. Despite this, British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia continue. The importance of Britain's alliance with Saudi Arabia is made consistently clear by British government efforts to block arms embargos or full investigations into the war.

Britain is the world's second largest arms exporter. British arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the 18 months since the war on Yemen began currently stand at £3.3bn. These sales sustain jobs and factories in some parts of Britain, at the expense of endless lives in Yemen. In addition, Campaign Against the Arms Trade has revealed that around 250 British MOD civil servants and military personnel work to support these contracts - funded by Saudi Arabia. As British bombs continue to be sold to Saudi Arabia, raining down in turn on Yemen, wrangling in parliament over the sales grinds on. Two of the parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls have called for an immediate ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and another has supported calls for a UN investigation. However, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson blocked calls for a ban or independent investigation, explaining that there was no evidence that Saudi Arabia was 'in clear breach' of humanitarian law, and that Saudi Arabia has 'the best insight into their own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations.' In late September, Britain also blocked an attempt led by the Netherlands to launch an EU inquiry into civilian deaths in Yemen.

In his speech to the Labour Party conference, leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to end British arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Focus on Britain's role in the war on Yemen is clearly increasing. It is essential that anti-imperialists seize this moment in a way which can start to build effective opposition against the murderous role of British imperialism in Yemen and elsewhere.

Toby Harbertson

Britain continues to fuel slaughter in Yemen

The bloody role of British imperialism in the Saudi-led war on Yemen continues to be exposed. Figures revealed in April show that the British government has approved arms sales worth £2.8bn to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the attack in March 2015 - £6.7bn since 2010. This is despite abundant evidence from a UN panel, charities and NGO's of systematic attacks on civilians. In mid April, the Home Office issued guidance to immigration and asylum decision makers that sending Yemeni asylum seekers back to Yemen could be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (Guardian, 4 April).

Amnesty International has since revealed that British-made BL-755 cluster-bombs, manufactured in the 1970s by Bedfordshire-based arms company Hunting Engineering Ltd, are among those recently used in Yemen. Cluster bombs are designed to break into smaller bombs, which often remain unexploded for years until they are disturbed. They are banned by an international treaty which 100 countries have signed up to - including Britain. The Saudi-led coalition has been using planes made by British arms company BAE Systems to drop these bombs throughout northern Yemen. Goat herders interviewed by Amnesty explained that whole areas were littered with unexploded bombs, forcing locals to attempt to clear them themselves to prevent injury to children or livestock.

Toby Harbertson

Britain continues to fuel slaughter in Yemen

For ten months, a Saudi-Arabian-led coalition has been waging war on Yemen with the full support of Britain and other imperialist powers. It has devastated the country to such an extent that 85% of the population are in need of humanitarian aid. More than 10,000 people have been killed, including 630 children – UNICEF estimates that up to ten children are now being killed every day. 1,000 schools have been destroyed, and 130 hospitals bombed. The UN and NGOs report evidence of systematic war-crimes and the Yemeni branch of the Islamic State group (IS) is thriving in the chaos. British bombs are destroying British-funded aid projects. But despite all this, the murderous leaders of British imperialism remain steadfastly behind their oil-rich dictators in the Gulf.

Yemen is a country of key strategic importance. It has natural gas reserves of more than 478.5 billion cubic metres, and oil reserves of three billion barrels. It is located at a major ‘chokepoint’ for international trade – Bab El Mandeb – through which 3.3 million barrels of oil are transported every day. Yemen must stay under imperialist influence for their world domination to continue. So it should come as no surprise that the US, Britain, and other major imperialist powers are deeply involved in the war in Yemen.

The war on Yemen began in March 2015, following the deposing of imperialist-backed President Hadi by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) insurgency. The Houthis are loosely aligned with Iran, and state the eradication of jihadist groups in Yemen is a major objective of their insurgency. They fight alongside a variety of other Yemeni groups. Since March, a coalition of forces from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, and Morocco have waged a brutal war to reinstate Hadi. They have maintained a land and sea blockade, despite Yemen relying on imports for 90% of its basic needs. Air-strikes have rained down indiscriminately on Houthi-controlled areas including:

• Five schools which were bombed between August and October 2015, killing five (Amnesty);

• A ceramics factory which was destroyed by a British-made cruise missile on 23 September;

• The Noor Centre for the Blind which was hit on 5 January;

• A Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) health clinic which was hit on 10 January, killing four – the fourth MSF facility hit since October.

British imperialism provides the weapons

Much of the equipment which has been used to commit these war crimes has come from Britain. Half of the planes being used by the coalition are British-made Tornadoes and Eurofighters. Britain has remained the main arms supplier to Saudi Arabia throughout the onslaught. Between June and August last year Britain granted more than £1 billion of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia – over 100 times more than before the war. 49 separate licences were granted, with none refused. The vast majority of these were for bombs and missiles to replace those which had been dropped on Yemen.

British military personnel are on the ground supporting the assault. Sky News reported that six of the 94 British military personnel abroad with unspecified ‘coalition’ forces were embedded with the Saudi-coalition (7 January). But this number could be much higher. In parliament, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond explained: ‘I can’t tell you whether it is six people but we do have a military presence in Saudi Arabia’. Hammond assured parliament that British forces were there to help select targets, and to carry out a ‘quick check’ when potential violations of humanitarian law were reported. A UN panel has prepared a report in which it accuses the coalition of at least 119 breaches of humanitarian law (27 January). David Cameron refused to launch an enquiry into British arms sales to Saudi Arabia when questioned about this by the Labour Party.

Ruling class opposition

Opposition to the British government’s support for the war is now coming from ruling class figures, concerned not by the suffering of the people of Yemen, but by contradictions in imperialist strategy. Yemen has been a major recipient of British development aid since being identified as a ‘failing state’ after the 11 September 2001 World Trade Centre attacks. In the last five years Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) has spent £227 million on projects in Yemen. Any gains made by this spending have been obliterated by British bombs. DFID-funded aid programmes run by Oxfam and Save the Children have been hit by Saudi airstrikes. Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell (of plebgate fame) highlights this perverse contradiction: ‘Britain’s humanitarian and foreign policy are pursuing different ends... The Yemenis are being pulverised by the Saudis while we try to get aid in through ports which are being blockaded and while British ordnance is being dropped there.’ (Telegraph, 14 December).

The primary objective of DFID programmes in Yemen was never to help the Yemeni people, but instead to create a stable, pliant government. A public justification for the focus on Yemen following the World Trade Centre attacks was that it would stop the country becoming a major base for jihadist terrorism. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have long been strong in Yemen. However, the current war has led to the expansion of a Yemeni branch of IS. Frances Guy, a former British ambassador to Yemen, explained: ‘We should be talking about Yemen in the context of security; asking where is the next place that Isis [IS] will go after any success by the US, France, and now the UK, in Syria. The answer is Yemen.’ (The Independent, 27 November).

The savage war on Yemen exposes the mess of contradictions which make up imperialist strategy in a world in crisis. Despite the £227 million spent ostensibly to prevent the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and alleviate poverty in Yemen, Britain has sold weapons worth at least twenty-two times this amount to support a war in which AQAP and IS have been major beneficiaries. Yemen has been left poorer than ever. Every area of significant IS activity is also an area which has been devastated by Britain and other imperialist powers. With every coalition air-strike, with every IS suicide bomb, Britain is among those with blood on its hands.

Toby Harbertson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 249 February/March 2016