Counterpunch, By William D. Hartung, April 3-5
With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.
The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
Reuters, By Mohammed Mukhashaf, April 9
Aden – Houthi fighters, backed by supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh entered the provincial capital of the mainly Sunni Shabwa province in eastern Yemen on Thursday, residents said, despite intense Saudi-led air strikes against the group.
Residents said local tribal chiefs and security officials facilitated the entry of the Houthi forces to the city of Ataq, where they took control of the offices of the local government and security forces compounds.
It was the first time that the Houthis, who hail from the Zaidi branch of Shi’ite Islam, and forces loyal to Saleh had entered the city, where the fiercely Sunni Muslim Awlaki tribe comes from.
The takeover brings the Houthis and Saleh’s forces closer to the country’s most prized economic asset, the Belhaf gas facility and export terminal, on the Arabian Sea about 160 km (100 miles) to the southeast.
Intense fighting reported in Yemen’s Aden
Medical supplies reach southern port city as Saudi-led coalition jets continue to strike suspected Houthi positions.
Al Jazeera, April 9
Saudi-led air strikes against suspected Houthi fighters in Yemen have continued for the 15th day, with intense fighting occurring in the southern city of Aden, where rockets have reportedly landed on houses.
The World Health Organisation says at least 643 people have died and more than 2,200 have been injured in the Yemeni conflict since March 19.
Tens of thousands of families have also been displaced and WHO has warned that the situation in the Arabian Peninsula nation is critical.
New York Times, By Hari Kumar & Ellen Barry, April 5
New Delhi — India used small boats this weekend to ferry some of its citizens to a naval destroyer anchored near Aden, Yemen, as an operation to evacuate about 4,000 Indians from Yemen’s war zone entered a difficult phase.
The Indian ship was not able to dock in Aden because of shelling, so the small boats carried people in groups of about 30, said Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesman for India’s External Affairs Ministry. About 2,000 Indians have now been transported out of Yemen, but the deteriorating conditions there mean that no more evacuations from Aden will be possible, he said.
“It’s been a hard task, and as the situation worsens, the time available to us lessens,” he said. “Difficult situations now are becoming more difficult as time passes.”
New York Times, By Mark Mazzetti & David D. Kirkpatrick, March 25
Washington – Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday night that it had begun military operations in Yemen, launching airstrikes in coordination with a coalition of 10 nations.
The strikes came as Yemen was hurtling closer to civil war after months of turmoil, as fighters and army units allied with the Houthi movement threatened to overrun the southern port of Aden where the besieged president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has gone into hiding.
The rapid advances by the president’s opponents included the seizure of a military air base and an aerial assault on his home. There were unconfirmed reports that the president had fled the country by boat for Djibouti, the tiny Horn of Africa nation across the Gulf of Aden.
NPR: U.S. Confirms It Is Supporting Saudi Military Operations In Yemen
Moon of Alabama: The Wahhabis’ War On Yemen
Al Arabiya, March 23
The U.N. special envoy for Yemen warned an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday that events appear to be leading the country “to the edge of civil war” and urged all parties to step back from the brink and resolve the conflict peacefully.
Jamal Benomar stressed repeatedly in a video briefing from Qatar that “peaceful dialogue is the only option we have.”
That view was echoed by the Security Council in a presidential statement which reaffirmed the readiness of the U.N.’s most powerful body to take “further measures” against any party impeding the road to peace in Yemen. That could mean new sanctions, or possibly other actions.
The last remaining US troops have left Yemen as Sunni and Shia forces wage an increasingly lethal battle.
The Telegraph, By Harriet Alexander, March 21
America withdrew its remaining 100 special forces troops from Yemen on Saturday, in a sign of the rapid unravelling of the country – which on Friday was hit by one of its worst ever terrorist attacks.
The US soldiers left their base near Al-Houta, after al-Qaeda seized the city.
The US commandos, including Green Berets and Navy Seals, have been training Yemeni military forces in counterterrorism operations, but the Americans have not been involved in direct ground combat maneuvers against militants.
Sources told NBC News that the US Special Operations Forces have been based in remote areas of Yemen and considered relatively secure from enemy threats. But one source said that with this week’s deadly surge in sectarian violence, evacuating American commandos makes sense.
BBC, March 15
The US embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh has cancelled all consular services for Sunday and Monday due to “heightened security concerns”.
In a statement, the embassy said consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran would not be available.
It urged US citizens to take extra precautions when travelling in Saudi Arabia and to keep a low profile.
On Friday, the embassy warned that Western oil workers could be the target of militant attacks.
It said it had information that “individuals associated with a terrorist organisation” could be targeting people working in the oil-rich Eastern Province.
Embassy of the United States of America Riyadh,Saudi Arabia:
Security Message for US Citizens, March 13
Security Message for US Citizens, March 14
Exclusive: As the Obama administration is rushing to complete a nuclear agreement with Iran and reduce regional tensions, the Israeli media is reporting on a deal with Saudi Arabia to let Israeli warplanes transit Saudi airspace en route to bombing Iran, reports Robert Parry.
Consortium News, By Robert Parry, February 25
According to an Israeli media report, Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli warplanes fly over Saudi territory to save fuel while attacking Iranian nuclear sites, the latest indication of how the two former enemies have developed a behind-the-scenes alliance that is reshaping geopolitics in the Middle East.
“The Saudi authorities are completely coordinated with Israel on all matters related to Iran,” a European official in Brussels told Israel’s Channel 2 in a report broadcast on Tuesday and described in other Israeli media outlets.
Riyadh’s only condition was that Israel make some progress in peace talks with the Palestinians, a stipulation that may be mostly cosmetic so the Saudis can save face with other Arab states without really interfering with an Israeli flyover to strike Iran.
Disclosure of this Israeli-Saudi military cooperation comes as the United States and five other world powers rush to finish an agreement with Iran to curtail but not eliminate its nuclear program, which Iran says is only for civilian purposes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to appear before the U.S. Congress on March 3 to undercut President Barack Obama’s negotiations.
The reported Saudi permission for Israeli warplanes to take a shorter route to bomb Iran also suggests that Netanyahu may be laying the groundwork for his own plans to attack the Iranian nuclear sites if the international negotiations are successful. Netanyahu has denounced a possible deal as an “existential threat” to Israel.
RINF, By Eric Zuesse, February 11
Zacarias Moussaoui was the bookkeeper for Al Qaeda, but the U.S. intelligence services have been keeping this fact secret as much as they can, because what he knows about the crucial financial backers of Al Qaeda can be very damaging to the U.S. aristocracy, which is heavily oil-based and closely allied with the Saudi royal family, which created Al Qaeda in order to please the Saudi clerics, who are Wahhabist Muslims who constantly threaten the royals with exposure of their economic and sexual corruption unless the royals finance the spread of the Wahhabist sect (such as by Al Qaeda), and thereby finance the spread of those clerics’ own international influence and power.
Or, so says the former bookkeeper of Al Qaeda, who was selected by Al Qaeda’s military chief, Abu Hafs (also known as “Mohammed Atef”), to serve Osama bin Laden in that capacity: Zacarias Moussaoui. This is his testimony, in brief.
Fox News, February 11
The State Department announced late Tuesday that the U.S. Embassy in Yemen had been closed and evacuated after much of the country was taken over by Shiite rebels last month.
Hours later, Britain and France followed suit and ordered their citizens to leave Yemen as soon as possible.
The U.S. embassy had already been operating with severely reduced staff for several weeks. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said remaining diplomatic personnel had been relocated “due to the ongoing political instability and the uncertain security situation.”
Al Arabiya: France, Britain suspend embassy work in Yemen
Newsweek, By James Fergusson, January 20
The ancient city of Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities on the planet. Its astounding street markets, almost unchanged since the time of the Prophet, used to attract hordes of Western tourists. Not any more. The risk of kidnap has become too great; the British Embassy advises its nationals to leave the country if possible, and if not, to keep any movement around the capital to an absolute minimum. Walking anywhere in the city these days raises hairs on the back of the neck.
The kidnap of foreigners, usually by hill tribes seeking leverage over the Sana’a government, has a long history in Yemen. It used to be considered bad for business to harm the victims, who were traditionally released unhurt – that has changed too. In a sign of the resurgence of Islamic extremism in the region, kidnappers have started selling their victims to al-Qaida and abducted foreigners increasingly end up dead.
For the last year or more, the West’s fear and attention has been focused on the emergence of Isis in Syria and northern Iraq. The Islamic State’s ideology, the brutality of its methods, and the success of its territorial campaign have eclipsed al-Qaida, the movement that spawned Isis, but which also formally disavowed them a year ago. Since the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida has seemed divided, directionless; a diminished force.
As in Pakistan and elsewhere, the accuracy of the drone strikes used in Yemen has been called into question. A recent study by Reprieve, the New York–based human rights group, which was widely circulated on Yemeni social media, suggested that strikes aimed at 17 named men have so far killed 273 people, at least seven of them children; while at least four of the targets are still alive. “You know, those drones are very expensive,” Al-Gauli observes bitterly. “Yet in our village, it takes a 2km donkey ride to fetch water from a well. If someone spent a tenth of the cost of a missile on a well for our village, maybe no-one would pay attention to al-Qaida and they would go away.”
Al Arabia, January 29
Saudi Arabia’s newly inaugurated King Salman bin Abdulaziz has issued a series of landmark orders that ushered in fresh new faces into state institutions and awarded financial support for many Saudis.
And the king ordered a total of $30 billion (112 billion Saudi Riyals) spending in the oil rich kingdom.
The king ordered a lavish payout to all state employees on Thursday and reshuffled some top government jobs while keeping in place the oil, foreign, finance, defense and interior ministers.
He removed two of the late king’s sons from big jobs, making Faisal bin Bandar Riyadh governor instead of Turki bin Abdullah and reinstating Khaled al-Faisal as Mecca governor less than two years after he was replaced by Mishaal bin Abdullah.
The two jobs are usually held by senior princes and have sometimes been stepping stones to higher positions.
AP, January 22
Riyadh — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the powerful U.S. ally who joined Washington’s fight against al-Qaida and sought to modernize the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom with incremental but significant reforms, including nudging open greater opportunities for women, has died, according to Saudi state TV. He was 90.
More than his guarded and hidebound predecessors, Abdullah assertively threw his oil-rich nation’s weight behind trying to shape the Middle East. His priority was to counter the influence of rival, mainly Shiite Iran wherever it tried to make advances. He and fellow Sunni Arab monarchs also staunchly opposed the Middle East’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings, seeing them as a threat to stability and their own rule.
AP, January 19
Sana’a – As Yemeni Houthi fighters and army troops waged gun and mortar battles near the presidential palace in Sanaa, the rebels captured the country’s state news agency and TV station. Monday marked the country’s most intensive clashes since September.
“The Houthis have taken the state information agency SABA,” Information Minister Naser Taha Mustafa told Al Arabiya TV. “The takeover is a step toward a coup.”
The clashes were focused on an area near the presidential palace and the residence of the national security chief. The diplomatic compound in southern Sanaa was also affected. It was not immediately clear whether President Abd-Rabbu MansourHadi was in his residence at the time.
Newsweek, January 15
Saudi Arabia is building a 600-mile long wall along its northern border with Iraq in order to keep ISIS at bay, the Telegraph newspaper reported today.
Once completed, the wall will consist of a ditch and a triple-layered steel fence, with 40 watchtowers spread out along it. Each watchtower will be equipped with high-tech surveillance radars that are capable of detecting low-flying helicopters and approaching vehicles, as well as being able to spot a human from the range of about 20km.
There will also be 38 separate communication towers in place and 32 military response stations, as well as 240 armed rapid response vehicles which will patrol the wall.