The party that led Yemen for 30 years appointed a new chief in the midst of the country’s civil war. After switching sides twice, former party leader President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed by Houthi rebels in December.
Sadek Amin Abu Raas is now the head of the party, which Saleh founded in 1982 and led until the wave of anti-authoritarianism brought on by the Arab Spring led to his ouster in 2012. He was replaced as president by his deputy Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
During his three-decade tenure, Saleh led several relatively successful military campaigns against the Houthis. After his expulsion, Saleh formed a surprise alliance with the Houthis, who were able take over Sanaa in 2014 with the backing of Iran.
He switched sides again in December 2017, announcing that he would support his one-time enemies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and President Hadi. He was then killed by a Houthi sniper while attempting to flee the capital later that same month.
President Hadi and the Houthis remained locked in a frozen civil war that is largely seen as a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran, who have backed opposing sides. The conflict has caused more than 10,000 deaths – more than half of them civilians – and a deepening humanitarian crisis that has left many in Yemen without enough food, drinking water or medical supplies. Aid organizations have regularly complained about both sides blocking access to the most desperate areas of the country.
Charles Shoebridge takes a look at some of the last year’s security and foreign policy developments.
The Arrival of Trump
One year ago, expectations for 2017 were running high. Donald Trump was about to take office, and predictions ranged from a new era of US policy pursuing peace and international partnership, to the US becoming a puppet of Russia, and even World War III. Of course, none of these happened, and such forecasts now seem as fanciful as they probably should have at the time.
On the day of his inauguration, I suggested that Trump’s evident ignorance of foreign and security issues, combined with his lack of loyal allies within Washington’s political establishment, would make him vulnerable to the pressure and influence of the politicians, officials, think tanks, lobbyists, advisors and journalists representing the same special interest groups that had long driven US foreign policy. Within weeks, Trump confirmed senior officials with largely the same hostility for example towards Russia and/or Iran that might have been expected of Hillary Clinton.
Seeing him as a threat to the established order, elements within what might be called the Deep State targeted Trump in a relentless campaign to undermine his credibility and threaten his removal from office. Perhaps fearing international isolation if Trump delivered on his campaign promises to restore good relations with Russia and end US support for the war in Syria, the intelligence services of the UK appear to have been a key driverof this.
Regardless, UK PM Theresa May rushed to be the first leader to pay homage to the new US president, while Trump left no doubt as to US priorities by making Saudi Arabia and Israel his first overseas visits – coinciding with a massive Saudi arms deal and planned increase in US military aid to Israel.
For the Washington lobbyists and US foreign policy establishment, this was business as usual. Yet it was in respect of Syria a month earlier that Trump learned how he was expected to behave.
Syria, Iraq and the Middle East
In response to an alleged chemical attack at Khan Sheikhun in April, Trump without waiting for any investigation launched cruise missiles at Syrian forces – reversing his and the previous Obama administration’s stated policy of non-overt intervention in Syria. In doing so, he immediately gained the (albeit short lived) approval of the same US politicians and media who for months had remorselessly condemned him.
Trump’s missile attack was largely symbolic however, causing little damage to Syria’s military capability and having no impact upon the largely successful prosecution of the war against Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other rebel groups that over the last year has arguably brought the country now closer to a restoration of peace than at any time since 2011. This was helped not only by the military support of Russia and Iran, by also by their cooperation with Turkey in attempting to forge a realistic peace process, with the long and destructive ‘Assad must go’ mantra of the US and its allies now rendered irrelevant.
2017 was particularly a year of relative tranquility for the people of Syria’s largest city Aleppo, which until its retaking by Syrian forces in December 2016 had for years been largely occupied by US UK backed, Islamist dominated rebels.
US UK politicians and media had for months daily warned that massacres would be perpetrated by the Syrian government “if Aleppo fell,” but these didn’t occur – just as they also hadn’t occurred in other recaptured cities, such as Homs. Meanwhile, throughout 2017 displaced civilians began returning in large numbers to their homes – suggesting that US UK claims that it had been Assad they’d been fleeing from, rather than war or the rebels the US and UK had backed, were likely wrong.
While perhaps forced to do so by the reality of the battlefield, Trump did honor his pledge to stop US funding and arming of Syria’s rebels. With it largely at an end, the massive scale of the arming program was at last publicly revealed, laying to rest the long US UK media-propagated myth of US UK policy in Syria having been one of non-intervention.
Not only did the arming of Syria’s rebels fuel and prolong a war that has killed some 400,000 people, but also many of the armssupplied by the US and its allies ended up in the “wrong hands” of the same Islamic State and Al-Qaeda terrorists the US and its allies were purporting to fight.
This of course was exactly as many had long predicted – and indeed was so predictable that some suggest so-called ‘moderate’ rebels were supplied with often sophisticated weapons in the knowledge they would be passed to extremists who, from the war’s outset, comprised the most effective fighting force against Assad.
Such a scenario would not be a surprise. After all, the US and its allies have long regarded Islamist forces as a useful foreign policy tool, regardless of their disdain of democracy, human rights or other claimed ‘US values.’
Even three years after its air campaign to “degrade” IS began, evidence continued to emerge over the last year to suggest the US and its allies still see IS as much as an asset as an enemy to be destroyed. In December 2016 for example, despite intensive US surveillance, IS forces were able to cross open desert to attack Palmyra, just at the time US backed rebels were under intense military pressure in Aleppo.
Similarly, the US reportedly facilitated the escape of IS fighters from Raqqa, and appeared to strike a deal with IS fighters to allow the US’ SDF proxies an unopposed advance in their race to seize Deir ez-Zor oilfields, thereby preventing their retaking by forces loyal to Assad. This illustrates how even now, the uninvited and hence unlawfulUS presence in Syria continues.
As in Syria, 2017 also saw IS largely defeated in Iraq. US-led airstrikes undoubtedly played a role in this – but at great civilian loss of life that barely featured in US UK media, unlike the daily coverage of alleged mass civilian casualties when Syria and Russia were, for example, carrying out operations in Aleppo. Indeed, only now is the extent of US-led killing of civilians in, for example, Raqqa and Mosul starting to receive prominent coverage in US UK media.
The same applies to the Saudi air campaign and blockade against Yemen which, using US and UK supplied weapons, continued throughout the year at catastrophic civilian cost, yet which receives only infrequent and mainly uncritical coverage in a US UK media that mostly would rather parrot US and Israeli claims that Iran is the source of the region’s instability.
Predictably, IS losing their physical ‘caliphate’ didn’t end terrorist attacks elsewhere. In April, an attack on the St. Petersburg Metro killed 15, and 8 died in Manhattan. Attacks in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Egypt and elsewhere killed very many more.
The UK suffered its worst incidents since 2005, including 22 killed in Manchester in what appears to be one of the clearest examples of blowback resulting from the policies of the UK government and its intelligence services in facilitating the destabilization of states such as Libya.
Russia, Russia, Russia
2017 was the year Russia was blamed by Western politicians and media for everything. Notably, this wasn’t only the usual ‘Russia threat’ stories of aircraft and ships that turn out to be entirely routine, in international waters and airspace, and which when the same activities are carried out by NATO forces are instead described as ‘a response’ or ‘reassurance.’
Russia was also blamed for cyber-attacks, despite little evidence being offered, and despite that in some cases the blame for the attack seemed to shift according to which ‘enemy’ state was most in need of vilification at the time. For example, a hacking of emails of UK parliamentarians was first blamed on Russia but later on Iran, whereas another attack was blamed first on Russia, then on North Korea.
In reality, accurate attribution in cyber-attacks is notoriously difficult – particularly given that the CIA and doubtless others have developed tools specifically designed to blame attacks on those innocent of them.
Throughout 2017, it was also repeatedly reported that Russia is interfering in other countries’ elections and referendums. These claims are often reported as fact yet, despite long running and intensive investigations, the hard evidence to support such allegations remains almost entirely absent – for example in Germany, France, the US and the UK.
The recent UN votes against Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and for example the US position on climate change and Iran, show a US arguably more isolated from world opinion, including even its close allies, than at any time in recent history.
Yet rather than work to cultivate partnerships to deal with common issues such as Korea or terrorism, the US continues to publicly designate potential allies as enemies, as for example in its recent security strategy document – and to seek confrontation rather than cooperation, as arguably in its decision to send arms to Ukraine.
The US remains the world’s most powerful nation. But unless it can learn to carry its immense power more softly and responsibly, to act in the interests of peace, stability, of its own people and the wider world rather than in the narrow interests of those that often appear to be driving its policies, its influence in an increasingly multipolar world will likely decline. If 2017 is any guide, it seems perhaps even less likely now that Trump will prevent this than it did a year ago.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the presence of American troops in Syria is unlawful, and that they must completely leave the Syrian soil.
Speaking to the Interfax news agency on Thursday, Lavrov added that the United Nations Security Council had not authorized operation in Syria by the United States and the coalition it leads.
Nor has Washington been invited onto the Arab country’s soil by the Syrian government, he asserted.
The Takfiri terrorist group of Daesh unleashed a campaign of bloodshed and destruction in Syria in 2014, overrunning considerable expanses of territory.
The same year saw the United States launch a so-called campaign against Daesh together with a coalition of its allies. The military alliance had done little in the fight against the terrorists, and has instead been repeatedly accused of targeting and killing civilians and hampering Syrian government operations against Takfiri terrorists.
The Syrian government then enlisted the assistance of Iranian military advisors and Russian air cover, pushing back the terrorists turf after turf. The Arab country flushed Daesh out of its last stronghold last month.
Lavrov also reacted to a statement by US Defense Secretary James Mattis saying that US troops would stay in Syria.
The top Russian diplomat said the statement was “surprising” as it meant that the White House reserved the right to determine the progress and sought to keep control over part of the Syrian territory to secure its desired outcome.
According to the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which the United States itself has supported, the decision on the future of Syria only rests with the Syrian people, Lavrov added.
The Pentagon has also said there are about 2,000 troops in Syria. They support the anti-Damascus Kurdish militants in the north, who have, according to Syria, been seeking to gain more territory under the pretext of fighting terror.
‘US copters airlift Daesh ringleaders in Syria’
In another development, American helicopters were reportedly spotted airlifting Daesh ringleaders from the northwestern Syria province of Dayr al-Zawr to the neighboring province of Hassakah.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency citied civil sources as saying that the choppers had carried the Takfiri terrorist group’s kingpins from “several areas of Dayr al-Zawr countryside to unknown place in Hassakah countryside.”
The aircraft flew in from Dayr al-Zawr’s northern countryside, lowering their altitude above al-Sad refugee camp and then heading to al-Basel Dam to the south of Hassakah’s provincial capital of the same name.
Back in August, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the US had airlifted a number of Daesh terrorists near Dayr al-Zawr’s capital.
The London-based monitor said two US helicopters had conducted the operation in Beqres, a suburban area east of Dayr al-Zawr, taking four Daesh members and a civilian from a house used as an arms depot.
The incident happened while Syrian troops were closing in on the Takfiris.
On Wednesday, Russia’s military chief said militants, including those with the terror outfit, were receiving training at US bases in Syria, adding that the terrorists had been instructed to “destabilize” the Arab country.
In an interview with Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda daily, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov accused the US of using a refugee camp outside the town of Shaddadah in Hassakah Province as a training center for the Daesh remnants, including those evacuated from the terror group’s former stronghold of Raqqah.
A recent study by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) said that sophisticated weapons the US and Saudi Arabia secretly provided to so-called moderate militants fighting the Syrian government quickly fell into the Daesh hands.
The top UN official in Yemen says all sides in the country’s conflict are indiscriminately killing civilians. He said airstrikes by the Saudi-led Arab coalition alone killed 68 noncombatants in one day.
The United Nations on Thursday described the civil conflict in Yemen as an “absurd” war in which all parties, including a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, were showing a “complete disregard for human life.”
“This absurd war … has only resulted in the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of its people, who are being punished as part of a futile military campaign by both sides,” the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said in a statement.
Saudi-led airstrikes often hit civilian areas
McGoldrick cited two air raids by the Saudi-led Arab coalition on December 26 that together claimed scores of civilian lives.
The first killed 54 civilians, including eight children, at a “crowded popular market” in Taez province, and the second in the Red Sea province of Hodeida killed 14 people from the same family, the statement said.
Another 41 civilians had been killed in other fighting in Yemen in the past 10 days, according to the statement.
“I remind all parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, of their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure and to always distinguish between civilian and military objects,” McGoldrick said.
He said that the conflict in Yemen had no military solution and that negotiations were necessary to resolve it.
Saudi Arabia intercepts Houthi missile fired on Riyadh
The war in Yemen broke out in 2015 after Shiite Houthi rebels, with support from forces loyal to Yemen’s former president, the late Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over the capital, Sanaa, and much of the rest of the country. They are opposed by supporters of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose power base is in the southern port city of Aden.
The Arab coalition began flying airstrikes in the country in March 2015 in a bid to restore Hadi’s government and prevent what Saudi Arabia sees as a proxy bid by Iran to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. It stepped up its air campaign after December 19, when Saudi air defenses intercepted a ballistic missile fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, by the Houthi rebels.
The conflict has escalated further since the Houthis fired their missile at Saudi Arabia
The Saudi military intervention, which has included seemingly indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas, has met with widespread international condemnation.
By August 2016, at least 10,000 lives had been claimed by the Yemeni conflict, according to UN figures. The world body has not issued any current estimates.
The UN says the country is now in the grip the of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with about 8 million people threatened by imminent starvation. Yemen has also been afflicted by a cholera epidemic that has infected 1 million people.
Even before the war, Yemen was one of the Arab world’s poorest countries.
Yemen’s chaos deepens after death of ex-president – Q&A with Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator
This Muslim explains, “Jihad is a holy war against infidels in order to force them to convert to Islam.”
Radical Muslim terrorists all over the world carry out terror attacks “in the name of Allah”.
They justify their violence by quoting verses from the Quran.
Politicians in the West always claim “Islam is a religion of peace”,
Despite the fact that some Muslims and even former Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sandra Solomon claim that there are verses in the Quran and the Islamic scriptures that call for violence against infidels that often what leads to the violence and terrorism carried out against infidels by Muslims.
Christians are the world’s most persecuted religious group, according to studies
Christians and other Non-Muslim minorities throughout the Muslim world are being persecuted for being non-Muslims.
The Christian community in Iraq and Syria was completely annihilated by radical Muslims, anyone who could not escape and refused to convert to Islam was executed.
The Western world ignores the cruel persecution of Christians in the Muslim world.
Where are all the human rights organizations of the UN? Where are all human rights organizations in the West?
Please pray for the Christian minorities in the Muslim world.
Liberals and leftists in the West use the made up term “Islamophobia” to portray anyone who criticizes Islam as a “racist”.
They ignore the fact that Islam is an ideology that has nothing to do with race.
There is an attempt in the West to impose a sharia-blasphemy law to criminalize criticism of Islam.
It started when Saudi Arabia and Muslim countries tried to pass a UN resolution to force Western states to criminalize criticism of Islam.
The Parliament in Canada passed “Motion M-103” to condemn the so-called “Islamophobia (Fear of Islam)” in a preparation for a blasphemy law in Canada.
According to the sharia blasphemy law anyone who criticizes Islam or the Prophet Muhammad should be killed.
Under Sharia blasphemy law in Saudi Arabia and Iran Muslims are executed if they are accused of blasphemy.
In Pakistan, the situation is even worse, radical Muslims use the blasphemy law to persecute the Christian minority.
Is this the law the liberals in the West want to adopt?
If you think Sharia blasphemy law has no place in the West, share this post!
“I would like the company, but I don’t want a relationship on a screen.” Katherine Lam / for NBC News
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The course of true love never did run smooth. While applicable the world over, Shakespeare’s words are particularly true in swiftly changing Saudi Arabia.
Long forbidden, dating has arrived in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom with some Saudis meeting and marrying without the help of relatives. Well-heeled millennials meet via Tinder, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram.
While most restaurants still separate men and women into sections for men and “families,” young couples are increasingly appearing in public together in a handful of cafes and other eateries.
“Two years back we wouldn’t even be able to sit together — people would get the wrong idea,” says Waleed, a 27-year-old software engineer with the square jaw of a model. “Change has come to Saudi Arabia.”
Much of Waleed’s “love relationship” with his girlfriend has taken place online. The pair finally met in person in Egypt, where gender mixing is more accepted than in Saudi Arabia, long dominated by a puritanical form of Islam that has been challenged recently by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push toward a more moderate interpretation of the religion.
“Our culture here, they make love a sin,” Waleed said. Because sex and romantic love remain highly controversial subjects in the kingdom, interviewees spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, and pseudonyms have been used.
Waleed is an outlier in Saudi Arabia, where many marriages are still set up by families and where couples sometimes don’t meet in person before getting engaged. While there have been noticeable social changes recently, men and women who are not closely related still traditionally don’t mix, and some avoid even looking at an unrelated person of the opposite sex. Girls and boys are educated separately, and workplaces that employ women are nominally segregated.
So meeting, dating and getting married can be a treacherous obstacle course. Secrecy is the norm, particularly when it comes to sex.
“The elephant in the room is that everybody engages in it, but nobody talks about it,” says Lulwa, an aspiring filmmaker who wears bright red lipstick and lets her headscarf slip off when she thinks she can get away with it.
NOV 26: Inside Saudi Arabia’s changing kingdom 1:58
Lulwa, 27, bridles at a deep-seated sexism in Saudi society that she says reduces women to their reproductive functions, even among some members of her liberal circle in which the genders mix and alcohol is sometimes served at parties.
“You were born to give birth — that’s your mission in life,” she says. Then she channels her father and says: “Why would you date — where does this go?”
It is both a blessing and curse that Lulwa is not searching for a partner in her native Riyadh. She spent years studying abroad and has an American boyfriend whom she says she would “never” introduce to her family.
But the relationship has no future unless Lulwa leaves her country, or he proposes marriage and converts to Islam.
No pressure, then.
‘They took me to jail’
Finding and maintaining a relationship is a challenge even for those who haven’t fallen for a foreigner.
Fadila, 29, an accountant, has been looking for love in all the wrong places since she was a teenager.
Early on, her beguiling smile had boys asking for her telephone number. Fadila sometimes complied, but often gave a wrong number to prevent gossip. One day a boy tracked her down and left a note on her older brother’s windshield, she says.
“I know your sister, she does bad things,” the note read.
When Fadila was 17, she fell in love with a member of the country’s vast but powerful royal family.
“I thought he was the one,” she says.
The two used to sit in his car, where she felt safe. But the couple was, in fact, being watched by the religious police. They arrested Fadila, but not the prince. She says it later emerged that he had been having affairs with a number of women and drinking regularly.
“They wanted him, but they used me to get to him,” she says. “They said, ‘If you sign, we’ll take you home and not tell your parents.’ Instead they took me to jail.”
Her mother and brother got her released the next day, and the episode has been kept secret from everybody else except her best friend. Fadila is lucky — experiences like hers have cost other women their lives. Whole families can be disgraced if one member — particularly a female — is seen to have stepped outside of society’s strict social norms.
Afterward, Fadila decided to focus on academics, where she has excelled. She gained an honors degree in accounting and now has a good career. “I like my job — I speak numbers,” she says, smiling.
Since her experience, the religious police have been stripped of much of their power.
Unlike her career, Fadila’s love life has been a string of disappointments. She tried Tinder but that didn’t work.
“They think you’re bad because you go out with them and make out with them,” she laments. “My friends say, ‘If you like him, don’t let him touch you.’”
So about six months ago, her heart aching, Fadila gave up and decided to do the unthinkable. She let her older brother find her a husband.
“I just want to settle down, focus on my career, go home and find someone there,” she says. “I just want to have my own house.”
Single Saudi adults hardly ever live outside the family home.
First a suitable match was identified. Then the respective fathers and brothers gathered in Fadila’s home, which is when she first met and assessed her future fiance. Finally, the mothers got together to drink tea and check each other out.
After meeting her intended just twice, Fadila went through an official engagement ceremony, which involved the couple signing a contract specifying that she would never be forced to live with her in-laws and prevented from working outside the home. Now the two see each other openly and have even taken a trip abroad together.
On paper her fiance is ideal — an IT specialist who is handsome, open-minded and respectful, she says. But there’s a big problem: He is not her chosen love.
“I don’t have feelings for him,” Fadila said. “Some people say love comes after, respect comes first, but I don’t know.”
Tangle of customs and morals
Like Fadila, Omar is now looking into getting hitched traditionally after trying the alternative.
A U.S.-educated engineer, Omar laughs easily over fries, coffee and pineapple juice in an upscale Riyadh eatery. The lights are dim, making it hard to make out anyone’s features. It looks like the handful of couples at nearby tables are on dates.
Omar, 26, is candid about sex, a subject that looms over any discussion about how men and women interact. The issue is a complicated tangle of customs and morals, with many Saudis viewing women and their behavior as “a risk to tribal honor,” Omar says.
This affects the way they act, including in bed, he and others tell NBC News. Because Saudi women are expected to be virgins when they marry, many opt not to have vaginal intercourse and instead engage in other types of sex when dating, Omar says.
While he has more experience with women than many unmarried Saudi men, because of his time in the U.S., Omar says dating is difficult and a constant subject of conversation among his peers.
Friends have tried to set him up at dinner parties, and asked him to go on hiking outings. So he hangs out with women. Still things haven’t worked out for him.
He is also tired of what he calls the secrecy and “hypocrisy” of Saudi society, with so many peers pretending they aren’t dating and sleeping with people.
One problem for single people like him, he says, is that there is “no place built for socializing,” so people can’t easily meet and relationships are carried on largely via social media.
“I would like the company, but I don’t want a relationship on a screen,” he says.
Omar says he is reconciled to never getting married, which would be extremely rare for a Saudi.
While he concedes that it would be nice to find the right person, he explains his feelings this way: “Eating is essential, but sharing a meal is just preferable.”
Saudi Arabia intercepted the missile south of its capital Riyadh in a move likely to affect Yemen’s conflict. The Houthis had previously claimed similar attacks targeting an international airport and a province.
Houthi rebels in Yemen on Tuesday fired a ballistic missile at the al-Yamama royal palace in the Saudi capital Riyadh, said a spokesman for the group.
Minutes later, the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted the ballistic missile south of the capital. “Coalition forces confirm intercepting an Iranian-Houthi missile targeting south of Riyadh. There are no reported casualties at this time,” the state-run Center for International Communication tweeted.
According to Houthi-linked media, the Iran-aligned rebels said it fired the short-range Burkan H2 missiles at the time in response to “Saudi-American aggression and crimes against the people of Yemen.”
Backed by loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthis captured the Yemini capital Sanaa in 2014, forcing the country’s internationally-recognized government led by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign against the Houthis and their allies.
More than 15,000 people have been killed and thousands more injured since the conflict erupted, according to UN figures. The country has since been pushed to the brink of famine and prompted a cholera epidemic affecting nearly one million people.
YEMEN: AN EVER-WORSENING CRISIS
War: The ‘root cause’ of Yemen’s disasters
The UN has identified conflict as the “root cause” of Yemen’s crises. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2014 when Shiite Houthi rebels launched a campaign to capture the capital, Sanaa. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a deadly campaign against the rebels, one that has been widely criticized by human rights groups for its high civilian death toll.