24.11.2016 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Yemen’s Seventh Truce: Turning Tragedy Into Farce

2312321434234With six previous attempts to observe truce having already failed to mitigate the intensity of the crisis, the US brokered seventh truce has yet again—and unsurprisingly—failed to end the fighting in Yemen where the death toll has already risen to 7,000. Despite the fact that both rebels and the Yemeni government had agreed to observe the truce and the ceasefire announced by the Saudia led coalition, fighting has surged, with both sides accusing each other of violation, around the flashpoint southwestern city of Taez, where violence has killed dozens this week, despite clashes subsiding on several fronts.

While the fighting itself is a clear reflection of the US’ inability to control the situation on the ground even in a limited sense, the irony of the matter is that—and what turns the tragedy into farce—the US, which is trying to broker peace, happens to be the biggest provider of weapons to Saudi Arabia which has been bombing Yemen for last 19 months. This is where the crux of the problem lies and this is where the original cause of the war must be traced back to. Yemen war continues to drag on not because the warring parties are unable to come to terms; it continues to defy a negotiated end due primarily to the US’ dual-game in the region—a policy that utilises the war-scenario to not only to deepen the Arab countries’ dependence upon the US for military assistance and aid but also to earn billions in terms of weapons sold to the same countries.

Therefore, John Kerry’s involvement in many rounds of talks notwithstanding, it is also a fact that many strikes are actually carried out by Saudi pilots who have received their training by the US and who fly US-made jets that are refuelled in the air by American planes. And Yemenis often find the remains of American-made munitions, as they did in the ruins after a strike that killed more than 100 mourners at a funeral last month. Graffiti on walls across Sana reads: “America is killing the Yemeni people.” To the US’ disappointment, no graffiti reads “America is brokering peace in Yemen”, or that “America, is protecting the Yemenis from brutal bombing.”

With the US thus playing a double game in Yemen and with the US-made missiles and jets pounding the Yemenis indiscriminately, the question of the US being a committer of war crimes becomes pertinent. The allegation has concrete material base.

For instance, consider this: while the UN officials were expressing their concerns over the rising toll of civilian deaths in Yemen in September this year, the US Senate backed, on September 21, the Obama administration’s plan to sell more than $1 billion worth of American-made tanks and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, soundly defeating a bid to derail the deal pushed by lawmakers critical of the kingdom’s role in Yemen’s war. The deal involves more than 100 main battle tanks, machine guns, smoke grenade launchers, night-vision devices, vehicles to recover damaged tanks from the battlefield, and thousands of rounds of training ammunition. The primary contractor for the equipment is General Dynamics Land Systems of Sterling Heights, Michigan.

With Saudi Arabia being such an important buyer of the US made weapons, which are being currently used in Yemen against the Houthis, and with the US being eager to fulfil its security commitments and equally facilitating the Saudi led coalitions’ bombing campaigns both logistically and militarily, peace cannot really be established, not unless the US forces Saudia to stop its bombing campaign—something that comes at a high-cost for the US weapon-makers: hence, unlikely to happen.

What adds insult to injury is that the supporters of the deal say that the US cannot deny its Middle East allies the weapons they need to combat Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremists and check Iran’s aggression in the region. “Blocking this sale of tanks will be interpreted by our Gulf partners, not just Saudi Arabia, as another sign that the United States of America is abandoning our commitment to the region and is an unreliable security partner,” said John McCain.

The support continues despite the fact that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the 2,067 civilians killed in the conflict over a yearlong span starting on July 1, 2015, according to a report released by U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

Given the dual game the US is playing in Yemen, it cannot be gainsaid that truce and ceasefire cannot hold the fighting and pave the way for an end of the war, not unless Saudi Arabia’s source of military power, the US, decides to cut off the chain of supply and brings it to the negotiating table—something that is unlikely to happen under Obama administration and something that would be paid lip service only under the Trump administration.

In this context, the off and on saga of truce and ceasefire means nothing except that it allows the US administration to feed the general public with the impression of maintaining a ‘neutral’ stance towards the war.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.