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Gunmen loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, stand amid the ruin of Saleh's residence following an airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led alliance in the capital, Sana, on Sunday. (Photo: Yahya Arhab/EPA/Landov)

Is Saudi Arabia Now the Israel of the Gulf?

Robert Naiman

I came to Iran this week to participate in a peace boat sailing from Iran to protest the Saudi bombing and blockade of Yemen. Unfortunately, I had to withdraw from the boat trip for logistical reasons; my frequent collaborator Tighe Barry of CodePink still plans to be on the boat, which as of this writing was expected to leave Monday morning local time.

So instead of writing about being on the boat, I figured I would write about how Saudi Arabia is apparently becoming the Israel of the Gulf countries: a habitual aggressor in its neighborhood, enabled in its aggression by the United States. Indeed, it could be argued that Saudi Arabia has become a more dangerous regional aggressor than Israel, because so far, at least, Saudi Arabia’s aggression in Yemen, like its aggression in Bahrain, has provoked a less vigorous international reaction, including in the United States, than Israel’s recent war in Gaza.

Like Israel’s recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia’s campaign is being widely judged a failure in a military sense, which means that, like Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, they have killed many human beings, including many civilians, for no clear military purpose:

Airstrikes on [former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah] Saleh’s residence and in the northern province of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, also reflected a desire by the Saudi-led coalition to salvage a military victory by killing opposition leaders after a six-week bombing campaign that analysts say has failed to meet most of its original goals.

More than 1,400 people have been killed since March, when Saudi Arabia launched its aerial campaign against the Houthis, a Shiite movement that had taken control of Yemen’s capital and forced the government from power. The Houthis have weathered the onslaught and continued their advance.

According to Oxfam, the 1,400 people killed so far have included at least 400 civilians.

Like Israel in Gaza, Saudi Arabia pretended that warning civilians to flee an area that they intend to bomb absolves them from their obligation under international humanitarian law to avoid civilian casualties. Like Israel, their claim was rejected by the United Nations:

That rationalization for Friday and Saturday airstrikes was rejected by Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

"The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law," Van Der Klaauw said in a statement.

The U.N. official said he was especially concerned about the airstrikes on Saada, "where scores of civilians were reportedly killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes after the coalition declared the entire governorate a military target."

It is certainly a very welcome development that Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have finally agreed to a five-day cease-fire to allow desperately needed humanitarian relief supplies to be delivered to Yemen. Don’t you agree with Oxfam that the ceasefire should be permanent? If you agree, you can tell President Obama and Congress so here.


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Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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