The European Parliament’s recent non-binding Resolution regarding to the humanitarian situation in Yemen calls into question the actions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What the Resolution fails to take into account are several fundamental truths that lie at the heart of Saudi involvement in the country. The Parliament’s request for EU member states to embargo arms sales to Saudi Arabia ultimately works against our shared aim of restoring stability in the country and in the wider region.
The actions of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which brings together forces from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Senegal, Sudan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, are a direct response to a request from the legitimate government in Yemen to intervene in order restore peace to the country.
In March 2015, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia responded to the appeal for action from Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi whose government and people were the subject of attempts by Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, to stage a violent coup d’état. Almost a year later, the military and humanitarian engagement of “Restoration of Hope” has made progress in bringing more stability to the country. While the Kingdom’s intervention has been met with some controversy, a failure to take action in Yemen would have had devastating geopolitical consequences for the Kingdom, Europe and the broader West. The coalition of countries that are part of Restoration of Hope operations consider its achievements in this campaign to be of critical regional significance to the international community. In particular, the actions of Saudi Arabia and its partners have already made progress in several of their strategic aims.
Firstly, the coalition is counteracting Iranian support of the Houthi rebels, which must be seen in the context of an attempt by Tehran to expand its influence into the Arabian Peninsula. One clear example of this was the US’ interception of a convoy of Iranian ships last spring, which were suspected of supplying arms to Houthi militia in the Gulf of Aden. The successful US action was in response to Saudi Arabia’s request. Moreover, the Kingdom and its partners are working to prevent and eliminate the presence of hundreds of Iranian military personnel in Yemen, who have been deployed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to arm and bolster the rebel Houthi forces.
Secondly, the eradication of Houthi-led separatism is paramount for the future stability of Yemen. Houthi rebels rejected outright President Hadi’s constitutional proposals of October 2014, which afforded the group greater political autonomy and participation in Yemen’s mainstream political establishment. The Houthis instead demanded far more extreme concessions, including the founding of their own distinct state in the country’s north. The Yemeni government’s rejection of these demands triggered the Houthis’ violent storming of the presidential palace. It was Saudi Arabia’s intervention and capture of rebel strongholds that protected Yemen’s capital of Sana’a from what would have been an all-out takeover of the northern part of the country.
Thirdly, the coalition is doing everything in its power to ensure an end to Houthi aggression against Yemen’s civil population. Over the course of the war, Houthis have bombed civilians on the ground and used child soldiers and starvation as a means of intimidation. Such tactics were evident in the port city of Taiz on the Red Sea, where Saudi forces intervened to end the siege of the city and supply food and medicine to the population.
What’s more, Saudi Arabia has long provided vast amounts of humanitarian support to a country that was subject to the devastation of civil conflict long before Riyadh’s decision to intervene. The Kingdom has been the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to Yemen, making available over $540 million over the course of the conflict. In April 2015, responding to an appeal by the UN, the Kingdom gave $274 million in support of the international body’s efforts in Yemen. In May of the same year, Riyadh announced that it would supply an additional $267 million in assistance. Such aid is not new: Riyadh pledged $3 billion to help Yemen implement reforms against poverty and hunger in 2012 and also donated millions of barrels of crude and petroleum products to assist in Yemen’s energy needs that year and thereafter.
A further priority is thwarting the menace of Al Qaeda and the rise of ISIS. Yemen’s branch of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), cited by the US State Department in 2014 as the greatest threat to Saudi internal security, sought to pursue its acts of radical extremism through exploitation of the Yemen civil war, including suicide bombs that killed Saudi and Western citizens. As a consequence of the coalition’s military engagement, this branch of Al Qaeda is no longer considered a major threat. That said, ISIS has penetrated Yemen, already detonating car bombs, carrying out attacks on mosques, and performing gruesome executions that had claimed more than 130 lives by the end of December 2015. Strategic coalition-led airstrikes, however, have served to limit any further territorial expansion of ISIS in the country.
Throughout the conflict, Saudi Arabia has adopted a vigilant approach and taken precautions in order to both reduce the risk of collateral damage and maximize the possibility of a diplomatic and political solution to the situation in Yemen. The coalition acts painstakingly to ensure that airstrikes do not impact civilians, and works closely with its allies to evaluate targets and review missions. The coalition has also established an independent panel to review any claims of civilian casualty. Recent reports have claimed that Saudi Arabia uses cluster bombs. This is categorically untrue and many further reports of coalition bombs hitting non-military targets have also proven to be false.
Over the course of its military action, Saudi Arabia has called upon international diplomatic channels through the Gulf Cooperation Council, G10 countries and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to secure a peaceful transition of government. We have provided substantial humanitarian relief to the Yemeni population and have cleared the Saudi border of missile threats and terrorist incursions orchestrated by the Houthi militia. But while Riyadh and President Hadi sought compromise with Houthi forces – including guarantees of parliamentary representation and greater autonomy within Yemen’s provinces – the group chose instead to pursue violent territorial gains.
The objective of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners remain clear: to protect the Yemeni people from aggression, to restore the legitimate government and to safeguard Saudi Arabia’s borders.
Saudi Arabia supports all efforts to end the Yemeni crisis and the Kingdom believes all political factions in Yemen, including the Houthis, have a right to be part of the political process. While Saudi Arabia always views military action as a last resort, the extreme consequences of not intervening in Yemen’s conflict meant there was no other choice.
Saudi Arabia stands firmly against all violent extremist movements, regardless of confession or ideology. The Kingdom plays a leading role within the international coalition to combat terrorist groups, notably fighting against Da’esh (ISIS) in Syria and in the wider region. Saudi Arabia will continue to promote political stability in the region, working to restore long-lasting peace and security for the citizens of Yemen.
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the EU