Escalation or Cease Fire? Saudi Arabia Claims Pause in Attack on Yemen
It was not immediately clear whether announcement will lead to sustained halt to military assault or relief for Yemenis facing humanitarian crisis
Saudi Arabia, which has led a four-week-long military assault on Yemen, announced Tuesday that "Operation Decisive Storm" will conclude at midnight, but it was not immediately clear whether this development will bring a sustained halt to the fighting or relief to Yemenis facing humanitarian crisis and siege.
A statement from the Saudi government claimed that "the objectives of 'Operation Decisive Storm' have been achieved" and the national security of Saudi Arabia "protected." However, the government went on to declare that Saudi Arabia has the right to "counter any military moves by the Houthis or their allies, and deal with any threat against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or its neighbors."
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia announced it is embarking on the newly-branded "Operation Restoration of Hope," which would aim in part to combat "terrorism." It was not immediately clear what this campaign entails, nor how many bombings the coalition—which includes the United States—plans to carry out before midnight.
The Saudi statements followed a claim by an Iranian official earlier Tuesday that a ceasefire is imminent.
"We are optimistic that in the coming hours, after many efforts, we will see a halt to military attacks in Yemen," said Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Iran's deputy foreign minister, as quoted by Iranian news agencies.
The official statements prompted immediate response on Twitter, including reports that the Saudi-led coalition continued to unleash air strikes following the announcement:
— Atiaf Alwazir (@WomanfromYemen) April 21, 2015
— Iona Craigأيونا كريج (@ionacraig) April 21, 2015
So in Yemen, many civilian casualties, Al Qaida stronger, humanitarian crisis exacerbated, infrastructure destroyed. Mission accomplished!
— Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) April 21, 2015
Sources in Aden say shelling is continuing there--from both land and sea. #yemen
— Adam Baron (@adammbaron) April 21, 2015
— Iona Craigأيونا كريج (@ionacraig) April 21, 2015
The developments on Tuesday follow signs earlier this week that the coalition's air war and siege was escalating.
U.S. Central Command, furthermore, announced Monday that the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, along with a guided missile cruiser, is headed to the coast of Yemen, where it will add to the 10 U.S. warships currently stationed there.
The move was widely perceived as an effort to send a message of intimidation to Iran. CNN reported earlier Tuesday:
"We are closely monitoring all maritime activity in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden," Cmdr. Kevin Stephens of the Fifth Fleet told CNN. "We not going discuss the number and types of vessels we are monitoring or speculate about the possible destination or cargo of those vessels."
U.S. warships from the carrier group of the USS Theodore Roosevelt are joining allied vessels from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other partner nations prepared to intercept a convoy of seven to nine Iranian vessels believed headed for Yemen. The allies are prepared to board Iranian vessels if they proceed into Yemeni territorial waters.
In a press briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest accused Iran of "destabilizing" Yemen and the region more broadly and charged that "they continue to supply weapons and offer support to the Houthis in Yemen."
However, as columnist Adil Shamoo pointed out earlier this month in Foreign Policy in Focus, "Though it’s likely that Tehran is helping the Houthis in some capacity, scholars on Yemen have been unable to gather much credible evidence of Iran’s military involvement."
What is well-documented, however, is the U.S. role in arming the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, which has pummeled 18 of Yemen’s 22 provinces, striking schools, homes, refugee camps, crowded residential areas, water infrastructure, and humanitarian aid supply. At least 944 people have been killed and 3,500 wounded in the country's conflict, the World Health Organization reported Tuesday.
A study released last month by London-based analysts with IHS Inc. showed that Saudi Arabia's dramatic increase in weapons and military equipment is largely driven by U.S. arms shipments. Since the bombing campaign against Yemen began on March 26, the United States has expedited shipments of weapons to Saudi Arabia and refueled their warplanes for air strikes.
Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams that the latest U.S. military deployment "is designed to intimidate or escalate. Either of those options will make things worse but not better."
"What if Iran then sends warships to assert its right to be in international waters off the coast of Yemen?" asked Bennis, warning that the U.S. maneuver has region-wide implications, including "the potential to undermine negotiations with Iran."
Meanwhile, voices warned that the U.S. naval presence not only directly escalates the war, but also reinforces the devastating naval blockade unleashing a humanitarian crisis in the impoverished nation.
In a country that relies on imports for 90 percent of staples, food and water supply are running dangerously low, and the coalition has been repeatedly slammed for blocking aid from getting through and bombing humanitarian supplies. The World Health Organization, furthermore, warned Tuesday of "an imminent collapse of health care services in Yemen" amid "increasing shortages of life-saving medicines and vital health supplies, frequent disruptions in power supply and lack of fuel for generators."
But Atiaf Alwazir, a Yemeni researcher, writer, and blogger who lives between Yemen and Tunisia and is currently based in Washington, D.C., told Common Dreams, "I don't buy that line."
"The U.S. is backing this war and backing the war coalition," said Alwazir. "The war coalition is blocking aid, the U.S. is supporting the war coalition, so they are obviously involved in the blockade that is killing people and leading to escalation."