The newly installed crown prince of Saudi Arabia and heir apparent to the throne Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) has shown himself to be a shrewd manipulator of American media. He has arrested about 50 people within the ruling class, including some potential rivals, ostensibly for corruption. I have no doubt that there is massive corruption in that country, as there is by the wealthy in most countries. But he likely knows that anti-corruption plays well in western media and could mask what may well be purely a power grab. He also allowed women to drive, a welcome move no doubt, but just a very slight relaxing of the oppressive status of women in that country. But for doing so, he was hailed as some kind of great emancipator in the west.
All this has obscured the fact that he is engaged in reckless military adventurism aided and abetted by the US. The most egregious example is the massive tragedy being unleashed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen that is causing immense suffering and has received hardly any notice in the US media or political class. Senator Chris Murphy has been a lonely voice in the US senate trying to bring attention to that war and US complicity in war crimes, as Alex Emmons reports
For U.S. officials, the difficulty in publicly addressing the crisis is caught up in U.S. complicity, given that the disease and starvation in Yemen is not the result of a random hurricane or an earthquake, but the expected result of deliberate actions taken by the United States and its allies in the Gulf.
“There is a humanitarian catastrophe inside this country – that very few people in this nation can locate on a map – of absolutely epic proportion,” said Murphy. “This humanitarian catastrophe – this famine…. is caused in part, by the actions of the United States of America.”
The brutal war in Yemen has killed well over 10,000 people since Saudi Arabia began bombing the country in 2015, but in recent months cholera has been killing people much faster than bombs. The International Committee on the Red Cross estimates that by the end of the year, a million people will have contracted the contaminated-water-born disease.
The outbreak is often portrayed in the media as a random and tragic event in a war-torn country, but it is a predictable, even intended, consequence of the coalition’s campaign of collective punishment. As Murphy argued on the Senate floor, Saudi Arabia, led by its headstrong Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is hoping to use disease and starvation to force the country to surrender to its terms, a strategy that is on its face a war crime.
Since the bombing campaign began, Saudi Arabia has targeted the country’s water infrastructure. In April of 2015, a month after the bombing campaign began, coalition planes destroyed equipment at a water treatment plant in Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a. The plant stopped functioning a few months later, after Saudi Arabia knocked out the city’s electrical grid, cutting off access to clean water for millions of people.
The United States has been a silent partner in the war since the beginning, providing weapons, targeting intelligence, and refueling support for the Saudi Air Force. The Obama administration provided more than a hundred billion dollars worth of weapons to the Saudis, and fragments of U.S.-made weapons have been found at the scene of some of the war’s worst atrocities. President Donald Trump has vowed to continue the policy, signing a commitment for more than $110 billion in weapons during his trip to Riyadh.
“It is U.S. refueling planes flying in the sky around Yemen that restock the Saudi fighter jets with fuel, allowing them to drop more ordnance,” said Murphy. “It is U.S.-made ordnance that is carried on these planes and dropped on civilian and infrastructure targets inside Yemen. The United States is part of this coalition. The bombing campaign that has caused the cholera outbreak could not happen without us.”
But as if sowing chaos and misery in Yemen is not enough, MBS seems to have turned his sights to Lebanon as well and if we are not alert, we may see in that country a reprise of what is happening in Yemen. Thanasssis Cambanis reports on the strange behavior of Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri who resigned his position while on a visit to Saudi Arabia and gave a strange speech in which he criticized Hezbollah.
In the Middle East, the parlor game of the moment is guessing whether Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister—or is it ex-prime minister?—is literally, or only figuratively, a prisoner of his Saudi patrons. In a stiff interview from an undisclosed location in Riyadh on Sunday, Hariri did little to allay concerns that he’s being held hostage by a foreign power that is now writing his speeches and seeking to use him to ignite a regional war.
It is widely speculated that Harari was removed at the instructions of MBS who has decided to challenge Iran everywhere in the region by militarily targeting its allies, such as the Houthi in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. That this reckless strategy is likely to risk new and major conflagrations in an already war-wracked region does not seem to concern US policymakers.
Saudi Arabia, it seems, is bent on exacting a price from its rival Iran for its recent string of foreign-policy triumphs. Israel and the United States appear ready to strike a belligerent pose, one that leaders in the three countries, according to some reports, hope will contain Iran’s expansionism and produce a new alignment connecting President Donald Trump, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The problems with this approach are legion—most notably, it simply cannot work. Iran’s strength gives it a deterrence ability that makes preemptive war an even greater folly than it was a decade ago. No military barrage can “erase” Hezbollah, as some Israel war planners imagine; no “rollback,” as dreamed up by advisers to Trump and Mohamed bin Salman, can shift the strategic alliance connecting Iran with Iraq, Syria, and much of Lebanon.
The Saudis have fanned the flames of war, seemingly in ignorance of the fact that Iran can only be countered through long-term strategic alliances, the building of capable local proxies and allies, and a wider regional alliance built on shared interests, values, and short-term goals. What Saudi Arabia seems to prefer is a military response to a strategic shift, an approach made worse by its gross misread of reality. In Yemen, the Saudis insisted on treating the Houthi rebels as Iranian tools rather than as an indigenous force, initiating a doomed war of eradication. The horrific result has implicated Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States, in an array of war crimes against the Yemenis.
The Saudis are even deciding who is allowed to see Harari, further cementing the idea that he is their prisoner. Robert Fisk writes that the Saudi effort to take control of Lebanon may have backfired, being seen as insults to Lebanese sovereignty and resulting in an anti-Saudi unity among the groups in that country’s notoriously fractured political system.
But as long as MBS tosses out a few crumbs to the US media, they will largely ignore his war crimes and the US will be able to freely continue providing Saudi Arabia with all the weaponry it wants to wreak death and suffering in neighboring countries and continue its brutal regime at home.