SANN’A, YEMEN—Yemen has been upside down for three years. Hunger, epidemics, and a blockade are all getting tighter. But the misery has escalated following the ballistic missile which was fired from Yemen at the King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital on Nov. 4. Overnight, Yemen became completely isolated from the entire globe.
This development has ushered in a new wave of civilian suffering. It feels like the war has just opened a new chapter of violence in a country beset by crises since the eruption of the 2011 uprising.
Dramatic events continue unabated here. The latest missile fired by the Houthis at the Saudi capital is a case in point. It constituted an unprecedented blow to the entire Kingdom, and a further justification for Saudi Arabia to consider a military or political victory in Yemen a matter of life or death.
The bloody war has been dragging on for 32 months. Unfortunately, it shows no sign of ceasing thanks to the regional arch-rivals, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Iran, which have displayed no cooperation, understanding, or interest in terminating the worsening quagmire in the most impoverished Arab country. Saudi Arabia said the latest ballistic missile fired from Yemen was “Iranian,” describing it as an act of war and aggression. Iran says the accusation is “unfounded.” They trade accusations as Yemen sheds blood daily. Yemen remains squeezed in the middle.
Of course the ideology of the opponents is at the center of it all. The Kingdom is at the core of Sunni Islam, and Iran the hub of the Shiite Islam. Sadly, Yemen has turned into the battleground of these two opposing versions of the Islamic religion.
The beginning of the civil war in Yemen in 2015 seemed to be politically motivated. With three years of fighting, the motives and agendas have changed, developing into a deeper conflict between two dogmatic regional powers. Yemen will have to bear the fallout of this growing Saudi-Iranian schism. This country will continue to take a heavy toll as these two stubborn regional foes continue to have their eyes fixed on a decisive victory in this battle.
Late last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MbS), stated—referring to the Houthi rise—that he would not allow another Hezbollah in Yemen. “We’re pursuing until we can be sure that nothing will happen there like Hezbollah again, because Yemen is more dangerous than Lebanon,” MbS said.
In the view of the next Saudi King, neutering the Houthi influence would mean cutting off the Iranian hands in Yemen at any cost.
When the Saudi air forces intercepted the latest Yemeni ballistic missile in Riyadh on November 4, the Kingdom rapidly declared a set of measures to stem what it says is the flow of Iranian weapons to Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition shut down all of Yemen’s land, sea, and air ports. Additionally, the coalition’s warplanes showered Houthi-held Sana’a with numerous airstrikes, and some missiles fell on the capital streets unexploded.
This retaliatory response has not spared civilians. Today, they bear the brunt of this escalation that has blocked the flow of aid and goods into the country. They struggle for food, water, electricity and transportation. The war and the blockade have made these services exorbitantly expensive or hard to find.
Recently, I came across a woman who spent two days queuing for cooking gas in Sana’a. She shared some details of her misery. “I woke up at 5 a.m., heading directly to join the endless line of people at the gas station. I spent the whole day queuing, but in vain. I went back to the house while my children were waiting for me and the cooking gas. They were hungry. I went to the bakery at night, and bought a few loaves for the children to eat. The loaves worked as a painkiller only,” the woman, who appeared in her fifties, said to me.
Such a story is solely the tip of the iceberg of what is happening here. Some families starve to death while no one knows about them. Many others die of treatable diseases like cholera that has infected over 900,000, mostly children, and killed over 2000 people. Some patients need sophisticated medical operations outside the country. Unfortunately, they moan on beds until the dying breath.
Hearing and reading UN figures on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen makes the flesh creep. For example: “20 million people need humanitarian assistance; of whom 7 million people were already facing ‘famine-like’ conditions and rely completely on food aid to survive.”
If the restrictions on the flow of aid to Yemen continue, the country will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.”
This is not hyperbole since Yemen had imported about 90 percent of its food even before the war began.
While this humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding in Yemen, the world powers including the UN and U.S. have not been moved by what they hear and see. Their statements of condemnation are insufficient to save people, or end a war that has killed over 10,000 in total, the majority of whom are civilians including women and children.
What can be certainly predicted is that Yemen will continue to be a proxy war battleground and Yemenis will go on living and reliving the misery of this conflict. Peace here remains distant as long as the authors of the country’s fate are from beyond the borders.
Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sana’a-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper.