Saudi Arabia has been using starvation to squeeze Yemen. The Saudi regime stepped up its air, land and sea siege of the war-ravaged Middle East nation in the last two weeks. The global reaction has been harsh. And Wednesday brought news that the Saudis, who aspire to a greater role in geopolitics, just might be getting the message: Stop punishing Yemeni civilians.
The Saudi regime said it would reopen Yemen’s international airport in the capital, Sanaa, as well as a primary Red Sea port, so that humanitarian aid could flow into the war-wracked nation.
That’s a step in the right direction, though we hope it amounts to a genuine — and not temporary — reprieve for a population struggling to survive.
International relief groups say up to 7 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine. Cholera has stricken at least 900,000 people. More than a quarter of those victims are children under 5. Nearly 400,000 Yemeni children need treatment for severe malnutrition — treatment they haven’t been getting because of the blockade, according to Save the Children, an international relief group.
That created desperation in a country heavily dependent on imports of food, medicine and fuel. The Saudis had been allowing a trickle of relief through the port of Aden, but U.N. aid groups say it hasn’t been nearly enough.
Yemen has been in the throes of civil war since the spring of 2015. From the conflict’s start, the Saudi regime, which opposes Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels, has intervened on behalf of the country’s ousted Sunni leadership. The Saudis also accuse Iran, their long-standing regional archrival, of actively helping the Houthis. Saudi bombing and relentless fighting over the last 2 1/2 years have devastated Yemeni society — more than 60 percent of the population was in need of food assistance before the siege.
That blockade was significantly tightened after the firing of a missile from Yemen toward the Saudi capital, Riyadh, earlier this month. Saudi forces intercepted the missile and blamed Iran for supplying the Houthis with the weapon, though they have yet to muster conclusive evidence. Yet the Saudi blockade has done little more than isolate starving Yemeni civilians, millions of whom are children.
Not surprisingly, a Trump administration that has cozied up to the Saudi regime has reacted to the Yemeni crisis with barely a yip. Saudi Arabia has been a U.S. ally for decades, but President Donald Trump has further embraced the Saudi government in his pursuit of other goals in the Middle East.
Trump hasn’t seemed fazed by recent examples of Saudi recklessness: An attempt earlier this year to isolate Qatar in retaliation for what Riyadh claims is Doha’s linkage with Iran; the regime’s purge of more than 200 princes, businessmen, officers and officials; a wave of arrests widely seen as a consolidation of power rather than an anti-corruption initiative; and Riyadh’s meddling in Lebanon, where the prime minister has stepped down — at the Saudi regime’s behest, many in Lebanon believe — from a coalition government that included politicians from the Iran-allied militant group Hezbollah. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he was putting his resignation on hold.
Tightening the blockade had been Riyadh’s latest aggressive tack. While Saudi regime appeared to be easing its restrictions on aid to Yemenis, the Trump administration can do a lot more to rein in Saudi aggression. Trump’s closeness with the Saudi regime has given him a good deal of clout with Riyadh. He should use it to get the Saudis to begin working toward a day when Yemeni citizens are free from the gears of conflict. Alliances, regardless of their importance or usefulness, should never require turning a blind eye to outright cruelty.
This editorial does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or Aim Media, owner of The Lima News.