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Yemen’s forgotten war is entering its fifth year. Is anyone listening?

A Yemeni boy looks at the destruction of his home caused by an air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition [Mohamed A. Al-Moayed‏/Twitter]
A Yemeni boy looks at the destruction of his home caused by an air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition [Mohamed A. Al-Moayed‏/Twitter]

Despite the fact that Saudi officials thought the sortie in to Yemen would only last a few weeks, we are now entering the fifth year of the war on Yemen. This portrays the coalition’s failure as it has contributed to leading Yemen to become the world’s most humanitarian crisis. The coalition does not seemed to have a far-sighted vision in knowing how things could potentially go and instead of taking a step back, they insisted to carry on until the situation was out of their control.

Many countries saw that entering Yemen was a policy that had no end and so pulled out before it was too late; this was a blow for the coalition which was unable to maintain support for its endeavour. It does not now appear that the coalition has a plan to end the war.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), “civilian casualties in Hajjah and Taiz alone have more than doubled since the Hudaydah ceasefire and Stockholm Agreement came into effect, with 164 and 184 people killed respectively.” This demonstrates that the coalition is keen on prolonging the war; making the situation worse. The only way in which the unarmed and helpless people of Yemen could live in peace is through an agreed political solution.

READ: In war, dirty water more dangerous to children than violence, says UNICEF

Perhaps when the decision is put in the hands of someone who has no thorough military experience, such as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman, who seems to control everything in the kingdom, colossal mistakes should not be surprising.

The approach that the crown prince has taken in Yemen may not have been welcomed from the beginning. However, the murder of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul has added fuel to the fire and forced the world to stand up and express anger at Saudi actions around the world.

As a result, the US and UK came under increased criticism, however despite the global outrage, they remain supporters of the Saudi crown prince.

As the UK Government welcomes the Saudi Crown Prince’s first official visit to London, Save the Children has unveiled a life-size statue of a child outside Parliament. The bronze-like statue is a reminder of the dangers that Yemeni children face every day and the risks of British-made bombs fuelling the violence [Save The Children]

As the UK Government welcomes the Saudi Crown Prince’s first official visit to London, Save the Children has unveiled a life-size statue of a child outside Parliament. The bronze-like statue is a reminder of the dangers that Yemeni children face every day and the risks of British-made bombs fuelling the violence [Save The Children]

The US, however, is divided. The Senate again voted in favour of ending military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, but the Trump administration has again made it clear that it opposes such measures.

“Four years into the Yemen war, now the worst entirely manmade humanitarian disaster in the world with 14 million Yemenis at risk of starvation,  it’s important to emphasise that there would be no humanitarian crisis or war but for America’s role as a partner and main arms supplier to its leading proponents, Saudi Arabia and UAE”, Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, told me.

READ: 8 Yemen children killed, injured every day

The UK, on the other hand, has been criticised for not stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In fact, when Germany halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia last month, British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt urged Berlin to rethink its decision. According to Der Spiegel magazine, Hunt wrote to the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, and said: “I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its NATO commitments.” This step came days after the House of Lords’ international committee concluded that the UK is on the wrong side of international law by sanctioning arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Such an action will make these countries appear as if the morals and ethics they stand for only apply to certain countries.

Previously Saudi’s southern neighbour was known as “happy Yemen”, but the misery it has witnessed in its recent past, in particular over the last four years with the high death toll and widespread disease and hunger, has made it “the sad Yemen”.

As the fourth year of  this devastating war comes to an end, Western governments must have a clear policy regarding their relationship with Saudi Arabia. They should speak up today. The way in which they are treating Saudi Arabia will not benefit them; they may rake in commercial benefits, but their reputations and political records will be marred by their actions.

Their reluctance in condemning the massacres that are happening in Yemen suggests that these governments do not actually care about those children who are dying in the conflict. If they did, they would have acted upon stopping the bloodshed, which is possible if they stop supporting the coalition. But their silence highlights that what is happening over there is not a priority for them. If they take a solid approach then MBS’s coalition may start reconsidering its actions before committing them. However, if this unconditional support remains, then the Saudi Crown Prince’s irresponsibility and reckless behaviour will remain the same, or worse, it’ll increase.

This article was corrected on 26 March 2019 at 12:23 to show that the war is entering its fifth year, the previous version incorrectly listed it as the fourth year.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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