U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Again

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival.”This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease.” — Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Israeli President Calls For Stronger U.N. Action On Genocide

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has questioned the United Nations’ commitment to eradicating genocide, slamming the UN’s genocide convention as nothing more than a “symbolic document.”

President Rivlin used his speech in the General Assembly on Wednesday, as part a ceremony marking International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, to call for greater international action and intervention in cases of genocide.

“We must ask ourselves honestly, is the struggle of the General Assembly against genocide effective enough?” he said, referencing atrocities in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Syria.

“In the face of these atrocities, are we shedding too many tears and taking too little action?”

The ceremony marked 70 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in January 1945. Rivlin’s speech warned of a “fundamentalist viper raising its head,” and called for the UN to more actively combat genocide.

“[The UN] must push ahead with decisive action. This organisation has a duty to lay down the lines that constitute genocide, and make clear crossing those lines makes it compulsory to intervene,” he said.

“Nations must not be saved as an afterthought or from considerations of cost-benefit.”

Rivlin made no mention of a current International Court of Justice inquiry into possible war crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces on Palestinian civilians in mid-2014. Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were killed in seven weeks of bombings, actions decried as ‘genocide’ by pro-Palestinian groups.

David Pressman, alternative representative of the United States to the UN for Special Political Affairs, also used his address to call for greater action on Jewish tragedies. He mentioned the town of Gotha, near the Auschwitz camp, whose inhabitants he called “complicit by inaction” in the “crimes of passivity” that allowed the Holocaust to happen.

“If we are to live up to the promise of ‘never again,’ we must recognize the role these bystanders played; people who convinced themselves they did not know, or were powerless to do anything,” Pressman said.

“We must recommit ourselves as governments, communities and individuals, not to become bystanders.”

The meeting was also addressed by Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon and General Assembly vice-president Denis Antoine, before moving speeches from Holocaust survivor Jona Laks and Soviet Army veteran Boris Feldman, who helped liberate Nazi concentration camps.

Laks spoke of how she was marked for death in Auschwitz, before her twin sister begged SS doctor Josef Mengele to spare her life. Both twins were subjected to Mengele’s experiments.

“There was nothing darker about the holocaust than the role of doctors in the killings,” Laks said, speaking of experiments including injections into eyeballs and uteruses, and deliberately infecting wounds to produce gangrene.

Laks spoke of the need for the stories of ageing holocaust survivors to be recorded and remembered.
“When the last witnesses are gone, who will know what happened?” she said.

“The Jewish people paid in blood for the world’s indifference and ignorance. It is imperative the world never forgets what happened, for there are some who would like to see it repeated.”