Tightrope: Years of Civilian Casualties in Yemen Force US to Rethink Anti-Iran Interests in the Region


International efforts to broker a ceasefire in Yemen are stalling as Houthi officials dismiss recent sanctions and threaten to expand targeted attacks on neighboring countries.

“Punishments do not frighten the Mujahideen,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the group’s revolutionary committee, said in a Twitter post on Saturday. “If they continue … their aggression, then unexpected places may be struck for some of the aggression countries.”

The announcement can be viewed as a reaction to last week’s newly levied U.S. sanctions, which targeted two senior Houthi officials who have led a military offensive in Marib — a city housing upward of 1 million internally displaced Yemeni people.

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The State Department’s designation reiterated “the need for an immediate ceasefire and resumption of peace talks” and classified two military and political leaders as specially designated global terrorists, in conjunction with the United Nations Security Council, which made similar remarks earlier this month.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Yemeni civil war began in 2014, after Iranian-funded Houthi rebels captured the nation’s capital and largest city, Sanaa. After initial peace negotiations failed, the Houthis seized the government, causing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his government to flee.

Since then, a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries has carried out a multiyear ground and air assault against the Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents.

In prior years, the coalition launched a major counterassault to retake territory in the coastal Hodeida region, employing a campaign of economic isolation and non-targeted airstrikes resulting in heavy civilian casualties.

Should the U.S. withdraw from the Saudi-led coalition?

The U.S. government has provided the Saudi’s with logistical, material and intelligence support.

Houthis have retaliated against the coalition with missile attacks on Saudi infrastructure and territory, including international airports and oil refineries. In Yemen, Houthis have fought against insurgent groups funded by the United Arab Emirates, as well as United Nation peacekeepers in Yemen’s south.

The conflict is now considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to CFR, with civilian casualties exceeding 100,000 and an additional 22 million Yemeni people displaced or in need of assistance. Approximately 8 million people are currently endangered by famine, and 1 million Yemeni are threatened by a cholera outbreak.

According to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Yemen is experiencing “the worst famine the world has seen for decades.”

Both sides of the conflict have recurrently violated human rights and international law.

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The United States has played a critical supporting role for the Saudi-led force since the start of the conflict, as have France, Germany and the United Kingdom, according to CFR. Despite pushback from Congress, former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump supplied the coalition with guided and general munitions, according to the Congressional Research Center.

U.S. involvement has been classified as consistent with the War Powers Resolution and in line with established American interests in the region, which focus on the broader regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

According to CRC, U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition seeks to maintain the flow of goods and resources, “preserve maritime security in the Bab al Mandab Strait” and improve efforts to counter al-Qaida and Islamic State insurgents.

But U.S. military aid has resulted in immense human tragedy.

In 2018, a laser-guided bomb produced by Lockheed Martin struck a school bus, killing 40 schoolchildren, according to CNN. A Saudi attack killed 137 people and wounded 695 others at a funeral in Yemen’s capital in the same year, according to Truthout.

Since then, members of Congress and humanitarian groups have launched recurring efforts to diminish U.S. involvement in the conflict, but to no avail. On May 19, 16 Senate Democrats sent the president a letter addressing their disapproval for American involvement and the Saudi-led blockade campaign.

President Joe Biden announced his administration would depart from the preceding consensus and take steps to end the war in Yemen, but his office has yet to make significant material changes to its Saudi commitments.

According to ABC News, the Defense Department has worked to maintain American military assistance for Saudi to deter Iran as U.S. troops depart from the region and pivot toward China.

Despite American support for the Saudi-led coalition, the Chinese government has also supplied the Saudis with billions of dollars in arms contracts, according to The Diplomat. Experts in the West believe China’s interest in the conflict demonstrates its plan to extend influence in the Middle East, in addition to gaining Belt and Road Initiative partners.

The Biden administration nonetheless has indicated its commitment to maintaining influence in the Middle East. At the behest of Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to travel to the region this week to continue ceasefire talks and “ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza in a way that benefits the people there and not Hamas.”

While Blinken’s efforts will mainly focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the secretary will engage with other regional leaders who share an interest in concluding the conflict in Yemen.

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Brett Kershaw is an associate staff writer for The Western Journal. A graduate of Virginia Tech with bachelor of arts degrees in political science and history, he is a published author who often studies political philosophy and political history.
Brett Kershaw is an associate staff writer for The Western Journal. A graduate of Virginia Tech with bachelor of arts degrees in political science and history, he is a published author who often studies political philosophy and political history.