HODEIDAH, YEMEN – In defiance of pleas from the United Nations, aid groups and others, the Saudi-led coalition has begun its offensive on the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, an offensive that is likely to result in mass civilian casualties and gravely worsen the country’s humanitarian crisis. The battle is expected to be the largest and fiercest to occur since the war began in 2015, and estimates from the UN warn that anywhere between 250,000 to 600,000 civilians will likely die in the fighting.
Worse still, Hodeidah is the only port held by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and is responsible for supplying 90 percent of the food to other parts of rebel-held Yemen, where around 18 million Yemenis live. Most of those Yemenis are expected to be at risk of starvation by the end of this year, while they also face a worsening cholera epidemic — both thanks to the coalition’s blockade of medicine, fuel and food, as well as its near-constant bombing of civilian infrastructure.
Though the offensive will come at a tremendous human cost and put the lives of millions of Yemenis at risk, it also betrays who is the real power behind this war. While Saudi Arabia was responsible for planning the attack, its efforts in Yemen have largely backfired, with Yemen’s resistance groups occupying part of Saudi Arabia’s south and raiding Saudi military outposts with growing regularity. In contrast, however, the other main member of the Saudi-led coalition, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has seen its influence grow.
Indeed, as the war has dragged on, the UAE has forged political alliances in Yemen’s south and has taken over control of much of the territory the coalition holds, including the city of Aden – the seat of the government recognized by coalition forces. The UAE has also taken control of the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait in Yemen, a critical chokepoint for the flow of oil through the Red Sea; as well as the island of Socotra, where the UAE has conducted censuses – leading to speculation that it will soon make the island an official part of its territory.
The UAE’s creeping occupation of Yemen didn’t go unnoticed, either by the Saudis or by the Saudi-backed president of Yemen, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. Indeed, Hadi’s relationship with the UAE soured considerably after February of last year, when he accused the UAE of acting as an occupier, not as a liberator, of Yemen. Saudi Arabia has also responded poorly to the UAE’s ambitions, with Saudi- and UAE-backed mercenaries frequently fighting amongst each other in Yemen’s south, and with disagreements over the control of Socotra.
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However, the clearest indicator yet of the UAE’s leading role in determining the course of the war in Yemen is the offensive on Hodeidah. Prior to the launching of the offensive, Yemen’s “President” Hadi, who resides in Saudi Arabia and has become somewhat isolated by UAE politicking, was summoned to Abu Dhabi where he was “forced” to accept the battle plan at the behest of the UAE. According to sources in Yemen cited by Middle East Eye, Hadi’s approval essentially paved the way for the UAE’s occupation of the city after the offensive, thereby relinquishing future control over the crucial port.
The power of the UAE in the conflict was all but exposed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who, in essentially green-lighting the offensive, made no mention of the Saudis, instead only mentioning having spoken to “Emirati leaders.” While Saudi Arabia has long been considered the “mastermind” behind the catastrophic war in Yemen, the UAE’s role in spearheading the offensive on Hodeidah betrays the fact that the UAE has now taken the leading role in the war.
The monster the U.S. helped create
The UAE’s rise to power is no accident, as it stems in large part from the UAE’s great success in wooing the United States prior to the war in Yemen — particularly during the Obama administration, which helped oversee the UAE’s subsequent military build-up and later turned a blind eye to the country’s “trigger happy” enthusiasm for war.
As Anthony Zinni, a former commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, told the Washington Post at the time: “The UAE has gone all-in […] It’s the strongest relationship that the United States has in the Arab world today.”
Though the U.S. under Trump has improved relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel through his hawkish stance on Iran, the UAE’s influence has continued to grow, largely thanks to its hosting of a U.S. Naval base in Jebel Ali, the Navy’s busiest overseas port, as well as a “secret” U.S. Air Force base that has been used for U.S. bombing campaigns in the region. The UAE has also sought the favor of the U.S. military by enthusiastically aiding the occupation of Afghanistan and via airstrikes in Syrian and Iraqi territory.
It has also coveted U.S. weapons, generating billions of dollars in sales for U.S. weapon manufacturers that have not relied on U.S. aid, subsidies or loans. Indeed, the UAE has been importing arms at a such a rate that it has stood among the top five weapons importers for years, even though it has a population of just 10 million people.
The military cooperation between the U.S. and the UAE has continued in Yemen, with the U.S. providing logistical support for airstrikes and with U.S. ships present in the naval blockade. The cooperation, however, has gone much farther. For instance, last year it was revealed that U.S. soldiers worked as “interrogators” in the UAE’s torture prisons and “black sites” it had set up throughout Yemen. Over 2,000 people in Yemen have “disappeared” after entering this prison system, many of them never heard from again.
The U.S.-UAE relationship has allowed the UAE to expand its military presence well beyond the region, suggesting that its efforts to take over Yemeni territory are part of its larger ambitions to become an empire in its own right. Indeed, in recent years, the UAE has established military bases across the Horn of Africa, including in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Puntland.
This increasingly close relationship between the U.S. and the UAE ensures that, as the UAE seeks to start an “empire” of its own in Yemen and abroad, the U.S. will again turn a blind eye to the situation. Indeed, if the U.S. was willing to allow the UAE to launch the offensive on Hodeidah – which conservative estimates say is likely to result in the deaths of around 250,000 civilians – it raises the specter that the U.S. will turn a blind eye to even worse from its regional ally in the future.
Top Photo | A convoy of UAE military vehicles and personnel travels en route from Yemen to Zayed Military City, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (WAM via AP)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.