Saudi Arabia and Israel are the two most malign influences in the Middle East. In a region blighted by (mostly western-backed) dictatorships, these two regimes stand out because of their influence. They are what I have termed, the permanent counter-revolution.
Israel is an apartheid regime which institutionalises racism against the native people of Palestine, driving them out by force when it can, and waging constant, bloodthirsty, wars of aggression and occupation against them and the other peoples of the region. It rules millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, who have no vote in democratic elections, or any other say in the entirely anti-democratic Israeli occupation regime that rules over them.
Saudi Arabia is an absolutist monarchy which does not even have the pretence of fixed elections. The two regimes are very different in many ways, but similar in some key respects. Both are systematic human rights abusers. Although in rather different ways, both have religious fundamentalism at the heart of their state institutions. Both did their level best to destroy and hijack the democratic uprisings that broke out in the Arab world in 2011.
Both are fêted in Western capitals. And both invade surrounding countries and start wars of aggression – although Israel does this far more.
And so to Yemen, which Saudi Arabia, backed by other regional despots has just launched a murderous war against.
Starting in 2011, Yemen saw a massive popular uprising against the corrupt and dictatorial regime of Ali Abdallah Saleh, which was backed by the US government. Eventually, with armed factions coming over to the sides of the demonstrators, Saleh agreed to hand over power to his Vice President, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, by February 2012.
That February, a rather farcical election was held in which Hadi was the only option on the ballot paper. He won 99.8 percent of the vote — a result which would make even Bashar al-Assad or Saddam Hussein blush.
This transfer of power was never accepted by many of the protesters, or by the Houthi movement, a group that long fought an armed insurgency against the central government in the north of the country. Part of the Zaydi sect, related to Shi’a Islam, the movement fought intermittently against the government from 2004.
In 2010, the Saudis intervened on the government side against the Houthis, who took control of a small part of Saudi territory for a short time. The Houthis basically fought the Saudi army to a standstill and they withdrew, claiming victory regardless.
After months of unarmed, Houthi-led protest against the Hadi government, another armed Houthi uprising in 2014 lead to the capture of large parts of the country. In January 2015 Hadi resigned, but later withdrew his resignation, and he now claims to be the legitimate president. The Houthis meanwhile announced that a council would take over the functions of the presidency so that the country’s political future can be negotiated.
Hadi fled the capital to Aden, in the south, which he briefly declared to be the new capital, before the Houthi movement began advancing on the south. Like the Tunisian tyrant Zain al-Din Ben Ali before him, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, just as the Saudis began bombing Yemen last week. He backs the Saudi aggression on the country.
Other counter-revolutionary forces in the region back the Saudi aggression on Yemen: Palestinian Authority leader (and Israeli puppet) Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the attack on Yemen (which Egyptian military tyrant Abdelfatteh al-Sisi may also get involved with), and even hinted that a similar Arab regime attack should take place against the Gaza Strip, where Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement still governs.
Much is currently being made of the sectarian aspects of the conflict – but this is overblown. It is true that Saudi Arabia is the worst sectarian agitator in the region (alongside Israel), and it does speaks in sickening terms against Iran (which it accuses of backing the Houthi rebels). But the conflict is far more about power and political hegemony: US hegemony of the world and the regional hegemony of Saudi Arabia (a key US client dictatorship).
As reported by Reuters in January, the Houthi rebellion was coming dangerously close to government ministries that worked closely with US military advisers and spy agencies. To have US “counter-terror” operations in the region threatened was not acceptable to the imperial power (never mind the fact that such operations frequently led to the death of Yemeni civilians in drone bombings).
In a speech on Friday Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah (the Lebanese resistance movement against Israeli occupation) reacted to the Saudi war on Yemen in unusually strong terms: “The real reason [for the war] is that Saudi Arabia lost its control and dominance in Yemen and the aim of war is to restore control and hegemony over Yemen. Period.”
In his speeches, Nasrallah usually speaks in veiled terms when criticizing Gulf Arab dictatorships, using diplomatic euphemisms such as “some Arab governments.” But this time he was taking no prisoners, slamming the Saudi regime and accusing them of creating the “Islamic State” (also knowns as ISIS or ISIL) and sending the car bombs that blighted Iraq for many years, targeting Iraqi civilians of all sects.
He also criticized the Saudis for never lifting a finger to help Palestine, mocking the name of their “Decisive Storm” bombing campaign against Yemen. He said that since Israel was created in 1948 “there has been no decisive storm or even a decisive breeze” to help the Palestinians against Israeli ethnic cleansing and agression.
Nasrallah said that the Saudis would suffer a “humiliating defeat” at the hands of the Yemenis if they didn’t allow the political conflict in the country to be resolved through negotiations. He said that history shows that invaders and occupiers are always defeated.
On Monday, Saudi bombers murdered at least forty people in a refugee camp in the north of Yemen.
And so we come to yet another similarity between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudis were beaten once by the Houthis in 2010. The Israelis were fought to a standstill by Hamas in Gaza this past summer. Both armies are terrible when it comes to fighting ground wars against indigenous fighters defending their lands. Both are good at one thing only: executing war crimes against civilians, carried out with high-technology.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.