Saudi war on Yemen: rising tensions in the Middle East and the crisis of Imperialism

Since early Thursday morning hundreds of fighter jets from Saudi Arabia and a wide coalition of Arab states have been bombing targets across Yemen, killing dozens, destroying all major runways and much of the key infrastructure of the country. Yet again Yemen, which is the poorest Arab country, has become a target for savage attacks by the Saudi regime.

Hundreds of civilians, many of whom children, have already been killed, but it is clear that this figure will dramatically rise as the targets of the attack are moving into the civilian populated areas in Sana’a and in the northern Houthi villages which are expected to be heavily bombed. This morning a refugee camp for internally displaced Yemenis was bombed, killing about 40 people and injuring 30.

Yemen-mapApart from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan were also sending aircraft, while Egypt and Jordan were preparing to take part in ground offensives if necessary. Oman is the only Gulf Arab state not participating. Apart from 100 fighter jets, Saudi Arabia has dedicated 150,000 soldiers to the campaign, amassing them on its long porous border with Yemen and threatening an even bloodier ground invasion.

The United States and Britain have said they would not participate directly in the campaign, but that they will provide “logistical” and “intelligence” support. Israel has also openly supported the campaign. However, the EU has been vacillating, and although it did condemn the Houthi advance, it also said that the Saudi bombings have “dramatically worsened the already fragile situation in the country and risk having serious regional consequences".

The Saudi Ambassador to the US said on Sunday that “ [t]his is a war to protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a group that is allied and supported by Iran and Hezbollah," and later on he said: “we are doing this to protect Yemen."

houthi-damagesThe level of hypocrisy is nauseating. The Saudi regime is killing thousands of people and destroying all the key infrastructure of this extremely poor country in order to... “protect it”!

The protection of Yemen and its people have nothing to do with this imperialist adventure which has one main goal: to protect the Saudi ruling class and its narrow, petty interests in the Middle East, which are directly opposed to the poor and exploited people of the region.

ali abdullah saleh-thAli Abdullah SalehFor years Saudi Arabia supported the former dictator of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was hated by his own people and finally overthrown during the Arab revolution. Then the Saudis, along with the rest of the dictators and despots of the Gulf states, manoeuvred to install into the presidency Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who was a vice-president for 17 years before the revolution.

However, after assuming power Hadi’s support quickly evaporated when the masses realised that corruption, nepotism and tribalism had remained in place, and that poverty and misery had become worse. Hadi also imposed harsh austerity measures on the population of which 60 percent already live in deep poverty. Thus, in order to rule, Hadi increasingly rested on different factions who dominated the different regions of Yemen. In particular he leaned on the tribal-Islamist Islah Party, while the Houthi tribal movement and the Zaydi people, who account for 40 percent of the population were marginalised as they had been for 60 years.

houthi-sanaaIt was in this context, that the Houthis could gain strength and take over large parts of the north. Their slogans against US imperialism, against corruption and against poverty and austerity resonated with the many impoverished youth, mainly in the north where the majority are Shias. By the time the Houthis took Sana’a the “legitimate president” Hadi did not have any base left and he was swept aside with ease and without much resistance.

hadi-saudi-minister-defencePresident Hadi and the Saudi Minister of Defece after Hadi's flight to Saudi ArabiaIn the South Hadi is not in much of a better position. Here he managed to whip up the wrath of the secessionist movement and push a layer of people into the arms of Islamist groups through his open cooperation with US imperialism and by allowing them to run a drone programme in the country. In the end Hadi’s last refuge was in the southern city of Aden towards which the Houthis were advancing.

Saudi Arabia and Iran

The Saudis could not accept the disintegration of Yemen and it falling into the hands of Iranian backed forces on its southern borders.

Since the Iraq war, Iran has developed into the biggest threat to the position of Saudi Arabia in the region. This conflict has developed with rising tensions between Saudi and Iranian proxies in the region - tensions which have been pushed towards an increasingly sectarian character.

While the Houthis are not fully in sync with Iran it is clear the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been supporting them financially and militarily, as well as advising the Houthis on how to develop a political movement along the lines of Hizbollah in Lebanon. The Guards themselves claim to have 300-400 personnel in Yemen working with the Houthis. But for the Saudis the expansion of the influence of the Houthis represented a danger and they decided to make an example of them..

For years the competition between the Saudi regime and Iran has been going on in the corridors and through proxies - in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bahrain and more - but the attack on Yemen is a turning point. For the first time the conflict is being fought out openly - on Saudi Arabia's side at least. This is a sign of the enormous contradictions which have built up in the region. The carpet bombing of Yemen is a signal to Tehran of the capabilities of the Saudis.

Saudi-US rift

The American and British governments have also officially supported the campaign. Exposing the cynical and hypocritical nature of US imperialism, the Americans have been changing alliances in Yemen as if they were changing shirts. First they supported Saleh for more than 30 years, then they supported Hadi, then they found a way of working with the Houthis (in particular against Al Qaeda) and now find themselves on the other side of the barricades, again as partners in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and the Houthis. (No doubt this will massively benefit Al Qaeda as well).

However, this does not change the fact that the Americans - who have historically been very close to the Saudis - were not informed of the attack which was decided and planned behind the backs of the US along with other formerly close allies of US imperialism such as Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Kuwait.

In fact, for the Saudis the attack was also a show of strength towards the US. This was clearly expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that the “Iran-Lausanne [read U.S.]-Yemen axis” must be stopped.

This shows a deep mistrust which has developed amongst the traditional Middle Eastern allies of the US since the Iraq war, in that it is not doing enough to combat the rise of Iranian influence. It is not by chance that the attack on Yemen comes just days before a deadline for the US to reach an agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue.

The Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the war in Yemen would not affect the negotiations. But it would be childish to believe him. Of course it will affect the negotiations, because the negotiations turn fundamentally around Iran's role in the Middle East and its relationship with US imperialism.

US Iranian detente

The competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran is not a new phenomenon. However, since the US invasion of Iraq tensions have been rising by the day. The occupation, by destroying Saddam’s state and armed forces, removed the biggest check for Iran and its army which was then free to intervene in the region. This posed a major threat to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States who would be extremely weak in the face of any advancing Iranian army.

Mar 1 protest-Al JazeeraEven more crucially, however, room for manoeuvre for US imperialism was severely weakened by the defeat in Iraq along with the economic crisis - which was itself deepened by the wars - and the following demoralisation and mass opposition to the war inside the US. The Arab revolution and the changing mood of the masses placed even bigger barriers in the way of US military activity in the region. Unable to freely intervene militarily, US imperialism has increasingly had to rely on other powers - namely Iran - to defend its interests in the region.

In Iraq the reliance of the US on Iran has been clear for many years. However, the rise of the Islamic State and the ensuing collapse of the Iraqi state has pushed the Americans closer to the Iranians. While the Kurds in the north have been able to push out the Islamic State from their territory, it has been abundantly clear that the only reliable troops to fight IS in the rest of the country are the iranians.

In Syria, the scenario is similar. Over the past two years, and in particular since last summer, the US has de facto been fighting on the side of the Assad regime against the different Islamist groups, in particular the Islamic state. The Gulf states, Turkey, Jordan and Yemen on the other hand, have been on the other side of the divide, supporting different sectarian groups in their fight against Assad, who is close to the Iranians.

Over the past year Israel has been actively cooperating with the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, Jabhat al Nusra, a group who earlier this year crushed the last remnants of the HAZM Movement, which is one of the few groups officially supported by the US. Israel have been supplying arms and air cover for al Nusra soldiers who have also been treated in Israeli hospitals.

Turkey also has been supporting Jabhat al Nusra and to a certain extent also the IS, providing them with arms and allowing them to take refuge within its borders. Of course the biggest support for the Islamist groups in Syria came from the Gulf where private and state funds have been flowing into a myriad of groups and militias. For the US however, the Assad regime is the only option of establishing some kind of stability in the region.

In Lebanon the situation is becoming similar. The state is increasingly forced to rely on Hizbollah troops in its fight against Sunni fundamentalism in its north where hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken refuge.

New York Times journalist Roger Cohen, wrote: “But the Islamic Republic has demonstrated again a deep-seated resilience. By Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan and Egyptian standards it is an island of stability.”

In Yemen the same process was taking place. As the Hadi government was collapsing, opening up room for massive instability and the rise of Al Qaeda, the Iranian backed forces were proving to be the most stable factor. Foreign Affairs , reflecting the mood amongst the dominant layer of the US ruling class wrote:

“The United States may need to look beyond alarmist slogans and flag burning to open a direct line of communication with Houthi leadership. Hadi’s government is powerless and has fled a political confrontation with the new Houthi government in acknowledgment that it lacks sufficient public and tribal support to wage a campaign against the Houthis. Those loyal to the Houthi family have emerged as one of the most effective military forces combating the expansion of al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in the Arabian Peninsula. If the West turns its back on Houthi leadership because of slogans, opportunistic aid from Iran, or Hadi’s protestations, it might end up forsaking a serious partner in the Middle East.”

This poses the problem facing US imperialism clearly. The US have no choice but to accommodate the Iranians. That is the real discussion at the nuclear negotiations. Events have changed the balance of forces in the region in Iran’s favour, and no amount of wishful thinking can change that. The negotiations are a means to formalise the new situation. The question is not whether there will be a deal, but what kind of a deal this will be and how it can be implemented.

Saudi Arabia - a nation in crisis

However, the question is not as simple for the Saudis. For Saudi Arabia, Iran is considered an existential threat. In spite of its sea of wealth, the house of Saud and the nation of Saudi Arabia - as opposed to Iran - is an extremely weak nation. The workers and youth have no loyalty to it, the state or the regime which they see as illegitimate in every way.

They are repelled by the ruling clans who live in extreme opulence and decadence while not allowing the majority any room to breathe. This hypocrisy is even more repelling for the Muslim Saudi people in the light of the ruling clique’s self-proclaimed role as the “protectors of Mecca”.

Its Shia minority, who mainly live in the oil rich areas of the country, have been heavily repressed for decades and represent an internal threat. On the other hand, amongst the Sunni population there is also a significant layer of people who are unhappy with the kingdom, which they believe should be a Caliphate. For years the Saudis have sent the Wahabi Sunni fundamentalists abroad to Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. However, there are still thousands of Al Qaeda and now Islamic State sympathisers, fiercely opposed to the kingdom, within the country.

This explains why the Saudi Army, which is the fourth most costly in the world, has never been to war. When the Saudis moved to crush the revolution in Bahrain in 2011 they relied heavily on Pakistani soldiers and mercenaries. The House of Saud has also recently called for the Pakistani army to be deployed on the Saudi-Iraqi border to defend the country against an offensive by the IS. It is clear that the kingdom does not trust its own forces who could just as well turn their expensive arms against the kingdom itself. This places the regime in a weak position when faced with an external threat.

The Saudi dictatorship was deeply shaken by the Arab revolution which they saw as a direct threat to their own rule. They feared that the revolution would inspire the poor, the oppressed - of which there are plenty in Saudi Arabia - and the youth to rebel.

Thus, Obama’s failure to back their common ally, Hosni Mubarak, during the Egyptian revolution further complicated US relations with the kingdom which lost trust in the ability of the US to come to its rescue if the Saudi masses moved. From this point on, the Saudis assumed an increasingly independent position and gradually began to diverge away from US interests in the Middle East.

A desperate situation calls for desperate measures

The risk of having a Shia ruled, Iranian backed country on its borders was too big to take. While this would be seen as inaction by the Sunni Islamist sections of the regime, it would also be a signal to the oppressed Shias of the kingdom itself to rebel. It would mean the loss of “its own” sphere of influence to the Iranians who would use it as a base from which to pressure the Saudis even further.

The Saudis were also alarmed by how easily the Americans fell into the new situation. Just a few months ago, when asked about the relationship with the Houthis when they took power in Sana’a, a US official said: “They’re not our military objective. It’s AQAP and we have to stay focused on that.”

For the Saudis this was a red line. Mustafa Alani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, told the Washington Post : “It started with Lebanon, then Syria, then Iraq and now Yemen. It’s like a domino, and Yemen is the first attempt to stop the domino...Now there is an awakening in the region, a counter strategy, and Yemen is the testing ground. It is not just about Yemen, it is about changing the balance of power in the region.” Alani went on to blame the United States and its pursuit of a deal with Iran for the expansion of Iranian influence that triggered the Saudi intervention. “It is not only the Iranian nuclear bomb that is an issue, it is Iranian behavior that is equal to a nuclear bomb.”

The despots of the Gulf are terrified of losing their position, their power and their privileges. This fear is the main driving force behind their actions. Like a wounded animal trapped in a corner, the rotten despotic regime is lashing out in an existential struggle which it is doomed to lose sooner or later. This is also why they have announced the setting up of a common Arab armed forces to intervene in the region, circumventing US and European imperialism. Whether this will materialise is another question, because the Arab rulers have just as many contradictions amongst themselves as they have within their countries.

The sending of ground troops into Yemen, however, is a very short sighted and desperate adventure. Besides the weakness of the Saudi army, Yemen is a very hard terrain and the Houthis are a war hardened people. Abdullah Saleh, the previous president who is now cooperating with the Houthis, waged six wars against them, but they have never been fully defeated in the inhospitable terrain they inhabit in the northern mountains. The Yemenis are also proud people who despise Saudi imperialism. Thus an occupation would probably mean the strengthening of Houthi and Al Qaeda forces among layers where they did not have any support before. In the end the result can only be a defeat for the Saudis and a strengthening of the authority of the Houthis amongst the population.

At the same time the Saudis are increasing the chance of attacks into Saudi Arabia itself, where the Houthis have shown they are capable of operating before. In the previous Saudi war against the Houthis in 2009, the rebels took control of a mountainous area inside Saudi Arabia, in the border region of Jabal al-Dukhan and occupied two villages inside Saudi territory for more than a week. The Saudi border regions of Asir, Najran, and Jizan were originally Yemeni regions annexed by Saudi Arabia following the defeat of the Kingdom of Yemen in 1934. They contain Shiite Zaydi tribes whose allegiance may lie more favourably with the Houthi movement than with the Saudi government.

Thus, the Saudis might be able to remove the Houthis from power, but they will not be able to annihilate them and they will only be able to replace them with a weak government which would need permanent support. This will mean a long bleeding of Saudi resources at the expense of further internal instability - something the Iranians will utilise to the fullest. The possibility of a break up of Saudi Arabia in the long run, is implicit in the whole situation.

More tension

Of course, for the Iranians the war on Yemen is a big provocation. No doubt that they will increase their support for their proxies in the peninsula. In particular Bahrain, with its large Shia population, will be a target for the Iranians. In a recent speech Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon said: “Bahrain is like any other country in the world and it is possible to send weapons and fighters even to the most tightly controlled countries in the world."

They might also intervene more directly in Iraq and Syria. But even more threatening to Saudi interests, the Iranians might step up their activities in the Shia dominated areas in Saudi Arabia itself. As the puppet Arab regimes enter into crisis, Iran remains one of few real nations with a strong army in the region. This will mean that US dependence on the Islamic Republic will increase further.

In the end it is clear that Iran will become the dominant force in the region. This will only make it an even greater threat to the Saudi ruling class which will escalate the conflict. For the Saudis this is a question of life and death, which means that no option can be ruled out.

The Crisis of US imperialism

In the final analysis, the chaos, anarchy and barbarism spreading throughout the Middle East can be attributed to US imperialism and its infinite arrogance. Since the end of World War Two it has spread sectarianism, fundamentalism and has been the backer of endless reactionary forces in the Middle East. However, now it is entering a crisis which limits its reach. Thus the reactionary forces that it has conjured up are slipping out of its control.

The Saudis are demanding a change of US policy, but this is not decided by individuals, but by material interests. The relationship with the Saudis has changed as the material conditions have changed.

In the 1980’s the role of Saudi oil on the world market and for the US was so important that it would have gone to war to defend the Saudi ruling class against a revolution or any other popular movement. Today, however, that may no longer be the case. The US has gone from being the biggest buyer of Saudi oil to a major competitor. This not only represents a threat to the profits of the Saudi ruling class, but also to their role in world politics. The result has also been a price war instigated by the Saudis partially against the US shale oil industry and partially against Iran.

So in terms of oil prices the Saudis have even been a source of instability, rather than stability. The Saudi price war against US shale companies is threatening up to one million US jobs. At the same time China has become the biggest buyer of Saudi oil.

At the moment, US Imperialism cannot and will not cut ties with the Saudis who are crucial to securing world energy prices as well as the military operations of the US in the Middle East. But it is clear that the relationship is at its weakest in the history of Saudi Arabia and that there is a widening gulf between the interests of the two ruling classes.

In the Middle East the crisis of US imperialism is obvious. The Saudis (and their Arab stooges) are building their own army beyond the control of US imperialism.

Israel is openly in conflict with the US Administration, going as far as to wiretap its negotiations with Iran and play the recordings for its Republican enemies at home. They are also openly cooperating with Al Qaeda in Syria. The relationship between the US and Israel has never been so strained as it is today. After the electoral victory of Netanyahu, the Administration did not congratulate him. On the contrary, John Kerry sent a letter criticising the rhetoric of Netanyahu during the elections.

Meanwhile, Israeli dependence on US aid has gone down relatively. From the 20-30 percent of GDP in the past, US aid to Israel today is around two percent of GDP. The Israelis have been openly humiliating the Americans on a daily basis and Netanyahu has even met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to spite the Americans.

Turkey has also openly opposed the US in Syria and Iraq, working with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. At the same time it has increased ties with Russia, allowing it to build an important gas pipeline through Turkey which would circumvent Ukraine on its way to Europe. Egypt, which is the second biggest beneficiary of US military aid, has been openly defying the US and is a key player in the present military campaign.

As with any empire in decline, it is the satellite vassals who lead the centrifugal forces of its disintegration. At the end of the Ottoman Empire it was the Egyptians who rebelled building their own army and having their own bilateral relations with the enemies from Europe. They even went as far as annexing other Ottoman regions. The Sultan warred with the Egyptians and the Wahabis in the Peninsula, but in the end he had no option but to accommodate them to preserve the unity of the empire, but it was too late. Egypt was a reflection of the general decay of the Empire, just as the rebellion of the US allies in the Middle East is a sign of the crisis of capitalism and the ongoing decline of US imperialism which is leading to increased instability amongst the nations of the world.

As it stands now, the US can not cut its ties with its traditional allies, but it also needs their mortal enemy, Iran. The ground is shifting beneath the feet of the rulers and contradictions are piling up. In one way or another they must be resolved.

Some “clever” strategists call this a “New Paradigm” a “multi-polar Middle East” a change in strategy, etc. They try to theorise and present the new situation as a choice of the ruling class, but this is just a cover for the complete incompetence of US imperialism and its allies. In fact the events of today highlight more than anything the complete lack of control of the US ruling class over the situation.

The US is a colossus with feet of clay. It is being dragged down by a deep crisis which touches every aspect of its life such as its military defeats, the demoralisation and decay of its army; its economic crisis which is polarising the ruling class as well as the masses while hindering it from waging offensive wars and its political crisis which is undermining the legitimacy of its political system completely. All of these factors mean that the US is declining as a force, internally as well as externally. In this vacuum, other smaller powers are trying to step in, a fact which deepens the crisis and raises tensions.

For its rabid dogs in the Middle East the situation is no different. The Saudis, the Israelis and the Turks are all regimes which are constantly solving one crisis by preparing another. The biggest threats to these regimes are the masses who are being radicalised by the crisis of capitalism and the Arab revolution. Thus each one in its own way is desperately looking to short term solutions to sustain their criminal rule. This is the main driving force of the ruling class and out of this comes all the barbarism and reaction which presently dominates the Middle East.

However, there is a far more important force which is also being prepared. The Arab revolution which started in 2011 is at a temporary ebb, but nothing has been solved. Poverty, unemployment and the lack of democracy are increasing and the ruling class has never been as weak amongst the masses as it is today.

In Egypt the Sisi dictatorship is extremely weak, only held up by the fact that the masses are tired and disoriented after years of struggle. But the Egyptian revolution has never been defeated in open struggle. The masses remember how they brought down four governments in three years. In fact, as a warning they brought down Al Sisi’s first government - the Biblawi government - in the spring of 2014. Sooner or later, the same force will go head to head against Sisi.

In Turkey as well society is completely polarised and Erdogan's popularity is being eroded by the rise of unemployment and the daily corruption scandals surrounding Erdogan and his cronies.

Iran is not far behind. Amongst the younger generation the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic is extremely low. For it, the Islamic Revolution has no progressive content, but is merely a symbol of dictatorship, backwardness and decay. The rottenness and corruption behind the scenes is far from the pious ideals that the mullahs hypocritically preach. At the moment the masses are watching the negotiations in the hope that they will bring them some kind of relief from the US imposed sanctions, but sooner or later they will begin to move again.

There is not a single stable regime in the whole region, and even Saudi Arabia could see a revolutionary explosion at any time. After decades of rule capitalism has not been able to solve any of the problems of the Arab and Middle Eastern masses. On the contrary, today we see the revival of tribalism and the plague of fundamentalism and barbarism on a scale never seen before.

In the middle of this, the people of Yemen, just as those of Iraq and Syria, who have been subjugated to poverty and deprivation for decades, are considered mere pawns in the eyes of the parasitic ruling classes. This proud nation which holds many cultural treasures is descending into barbarism and tribalism. This is the best that capitalism can offer the masses.

The Arab revolution showed that once the masses move all the reactionaries can be easily swept aside. The task however, is not only to overthrow the reactionary rulers, but also to remove their reactionary state and the capitalist system which spawns them.

No to the imperialist war against the people of Yemen!

Down with Capitalism and Imperialism!