Monday, November 14, 2016
For decades, Mustafa Elaghil’s family produced snack foods popular in Yemen, chips and corn curls in bright packaging decorated with the image of Ernie from “Sesame Street.”
But over the summer, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia sent warplanes over Yemen and bombed the Elaghils’ factory. The explosion destroyed it, setting it ablaze and trapping the workers inside.
The attack killed 10 employees and wiped out a business that had employed dozens of families.
The Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemen for the last 19 months, trying to oust a rebel group aligned with Iran that took control of the capital, Sana, in 2014. The Saudis want to restore the country’s exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who led an internationally recognized government more aligned with its interests.
But instead of defeating the rebels, the campaign has sunk into a grinding stalemate, systematically obliterating Yemen’s already bare-bones economy. The coalition has destroyed a wide variety of civilian targets that critics say have no clear link to the rebels.
It has hit hospitals and schools. It has destroyed bridges, power stations, poultry farms, a key seaport and factories that produce yogurt, tea, tissues, ceramics, Coca-Cola and potato chips. It has bombed weddings and a funeral.
The bombing campaign has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country, where cholera is spreading, millions of people are struggling to get enough food, and malnourished babies are overwhelming hospitals, according to the United Nations. Millions have been forced from their homes, and since August, the government has been unable to pay the salaries of most of the 1.2 million civil servants.
Publicly, the United States has kept its distance from the war, but its decades-old alliance with Saudi Arabia, underpinned by tens of billions of dollars in weapons sales, has left American fingerprints on the air campaign. Many strikes are carried out by pilots trained by the United States, who fly American-made jets that are refueled in the air by American planes. And Yemenis often find the remains of American-made munitions, as they did in the ruins after a strike that killed more than 100 mourners at a funeral last month. Graffiti on walls across Sana reads: “America is killing the Yemeni people.”
The sweeping destruction of civilian infrastructure has led analysts and aid workers to conclude that hitting Yemen’s economy is part of the coalition’s strategy. “The economic dimension of this war has become a tactic,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. “It is all consistent — the port, the bridges, the factories. They are getting destroyed, and it is to put pressure on the politics.”
In a written response to questions, a coalition spokesman, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asseri, said the air campaign had halted the rebels’ advance, destroyed 90 percent of their rockets and aircraft and pressured them to join talks aimed at ending the war. He denied that the coalition sought to inflict suffering on civilians and said only facilities connected to the war effort had been hit. He blamed the rebel group, the Houthis, for the humanitarian crisis.
“This is primarily the responsibility of the rebels, who have displaced Yemen’s legitimate government and who are impeding the flow of humanitarian supplies,” General Asseri said. Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries are also among the top donors of aid to Yemen. So even as they undermine its self-sufficiency, they help sustain the population. The air campaign’s civilian toll has led to calls by some American lawmakers to postpone arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“It is a significant moral outrage that we continue to provide arms to Saudi Arabia and to participate in military operations in Yemen,” said Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California who was a military prosecutor in the Air Force. “The United States is at risk of aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.” A Country in Chaos The difficulty in just getting to Yemen demonstrates how much the war has upended the country. The internationally recognized government is based in Saudi Arabia and in the south of Yemen. For a recent 10-day trip to Sana and surrounding areas, a photographer and I had to obtain visas from the Houthis.
We could not book flights into Sana because the Saudi-led coalition had halted all commercial air traffic. The United Nations allowed us onto an aid flight. As soon as we touched down, we saw traces of the war: the scattered carcasses of destroyed airplanes along the runway. Once in Yemen, we were told that we could not go anywhere without a representative of the Houthis. He was with us whenever we left the hotel. We did not visit military sites, which the coalition has heavily bombed to destroy the ballistic missiles that the rebels have fired into the kingdom, killing civilians. But the damage and suffering caused by the war were everywhere.
Beggars displaced by the fighting thronged our car, pleading for money and food. Buildings destroyed by airstrikes dotted the capital: the Defense and Interior Ministries, the army and central security headquarters, the Police Academy and Officers’ Club, the Sana Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the homes of officials who had joined the rebels.
The conflict has split the country, with forces backed by gulf nations and nominally loyal to the exiled president in the south and east, where Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have staged deadly attacks.
But in the areas we visited in Yemen’s northwest, the rebels were firmly in control, their gunmen running checkpoints alongside police officers who had joined them. In Sana’s Old City, posters of “martyrs” killed in the war covered entire buildings. Trucks with mounted machine guns, carrying fighters, occasionally sped by.
Spray-painted across the city was the Houthis’ rallying cry: “God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse on the Jews. Victory for Islam.”
On the edge of town, Yemeni families snapped photos of the ruins of a reception center that the coalition hit with two airstrikes in a single attack last month while the Houthi-allied interior minister was receiving condolences for his deceased father. Human Rights Watch called the attack on the funeral “an apparent war crime.”
United Nations officials gave us photos of remnants found at the site that indicated it had been hit with at least one American-made, 500-pound, laser-guided bomb. American warplanes routinely use that class of bomb, and the United States has provided such bombs to the Saudi military.
On an expanse of rocky ground near the town of Khamer northwest of the capital, where they have been since fleeing their homes last year, hundreds of families have built shelters out of canvas, plastic sheeting and mud bricks. Most survive on charity, eating rice and bread cooked on mud stoves fired with wood or garbage.
In one tent, Farea Gayid, 55, said he had worked as an army engineer until his unit collapsed when the airstrikes began. An attack near his home killed his neighbors, so he and his family fled on foot. A trucker gave them a ride to Khamer, so they settled there, joining the more than 2.5 million Yemenis who the United Nations says are internally displaced.
In August, the government could no longer afford to pay Mr. Gayid his $200 monthly salary.
“Now my children beg in the market,” he said. “If the situation continues like this, there is no future.” While the war spawned Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, aid workers say coalition bombings of critical infrastructure have exacerbated it. Before the war, Yemen imported 90 percent of its food, mostly through the Red Sea port of Hodeida.
Last year, the coalition bombed the port, damaging its cranes. Now ships often wait for weeks at sea to unload, and some goods are close to expiration by the time they arrive, said Mr. McGoldrick, the United Nations official.
The coalition has also bombed key bridges, including the main one between the port and the capital, forcing truckers to take long detours. “It is an all-encompassing, applied economic suppression and strangulation that is causing everyone here to feel it,” Mr. McGoldrick said. “The collapse of the economy is starting to bite very hard.” According to the World Food Program, 14.4 million of Yemen’s 26 million people do not have enough food, and malnutrition is rising. The suffering is clear in the capital. “What’s missing? Everything!” said Manal al-Ariqi, a doctor in Sana’s main pediatric hospital. “We lack medical staff, nurses and medicine.” Upstairs, nearly every room contained a malnourished baby. Most had been born to mothers who had fled the war and were too disturbed or malnourished to breast-feed normally, said Ali al-Faqih, a nurse. In one room lay 7-month-old twin girls, Ruqaya and Suqaina, both with sunken cheeks. “We lost everything because of the war,” their grandmother Shariya al-Awaj said when asked why the girls were so small. “All we brought with us were our clothes.” The ancient hilltop town of Kawkaban, a draw for tourists and Yemeni families before it was bombed.
The Economic Wreckage
The destruction in Yemen could cripple its economy long into the future, and it is unclear how the country will rebuild.
“They have hit many factories on the basis of suspicion, but we never get the real reasons,” said Abdul-Hakeem Al Manj, a lawyer at the Sana Chamber of Commerce and Industry who is helping businesses document the strikes with an eye toward future prosecution. “Any institution that has a big hangar, they hit it directly.” Some businesses said they suspected they were targets only because they continued to operate after the Houthi takeover.
“For Saudi Arabia, we are all Houthis,” said Haroon al-Sadi of the state-owned Amran Cement Factory, which once employed 1,500 people before it was bombed twice.
Plant workers showed us the remains of munitions they had collected, including pieces of at least one CBU-105, a cluster bomb unit that contains 10 high-explosive submunitions. They are manufactured by Textron Defense Systems of Rhode Island. General Asseri, the coalition spokesman, said it had “no interest in damaging any aspect of the Yemeni economy,” and had made great efforts to avoid harming civilians. He declined to provide details about specific sites, but said the coalition had “accurate intelligence” that the sites we visited were “being used by militias to store weapons and ammunition or a command-and-control center.”
The war has left nothing untouched for the Alsonidar brothers, Khalid and Abdullah, who own a group of factories outside Sana. The family works with an Italian company, Caprari, to produce agricultural water pumps. It also owns a brick factory, which was out of use, and was preparing to open a factory to produce metal pipes to go with the pumps, also with an Italian partner. Twice in September, the compound was bombed, destroying all three factories.
Saudi news reports said the factories had produced rockets for the rebels, a charge the brothers denied. They and their Italian partners have written to the United Nations to state that the factories could not produce military technology, and to call for an investigation, which is continuing, they said.
“We’re not talking about something useless,” Abdullah Alsonidar said. “We’re talking about infrastructure and people’s lives. Strikes like this can bring a family to the ground.”
Remains of munitions that the brothers found at the site indicate that it was hit with American-made weapons, including one with laser-guidance equipment that was made in October 2015.
The leaders of the two countries have signed a civilian nuclear cooperation, allowing exports of crucial Japanese technology to fuel India's growing economy. But concerns remain about India's non-proliferation status.
The Indo-Japanese nuclear deal has been six years in the making, and was officially signed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Tokyo on Friday.
The deal marks Japan's first nuclear cooperation agreement with a country that is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). The NPT is an international treaty meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and arms technologies, while promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy. India refuses to sign it, saying it is discriminatory because it defines nuclear-weapons states as those that tested nuclear devices before 1967.
The nuclear deal between Asia's second and third largest economies has been described by the two countries as "a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership for the cause of a peaceful and secure world."
Supporters of the impending deal say it is a win-win situation for both Tokyo and New Delhi. India will be able to feed its energy-hungry economy with emission-free energy, whereas Japan opens up new business opportunities for its nuclear sector.
Japan's cutting-edge nuclear technology is considered crucial for India's massive economic growth. Japan has a monopoly in the manufacturing of reactor safety components and power plant domes - key parts that India needs to enable its nuclear cooperation programs with the US and other countries.
The deal would allow Japan's struggling nuclear industry access to the growing Indian market, which is estimated to be worth $150 billion. This would be a great opportunity for Japanese nuclear companies that have suffered greatly since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.
India's similar civil nuclear deals with South Korea and the US "have boosted bilateral relations," Smruti Pattanaik, a research fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, told DW.
Between economics and disarmament
But concerns remain about India's potential misuse of the technology for developing more nuclear weapons. The Japanese people have long been apprehensive about the deal with India due to its nuclear weapons program.
"The Japanese government has softened its stance for the sake of economic benefits," Akira Kawasaki of Tokyo-based Peace Boat organization, told DW. "The deal grants the same rights de-facto to India as other nuclear powers that have signed the NPT."
The shift in Japan's nuclear cooperation policy with India started in 2008, when the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted a waiver to New Delhi to push through a civil nuclear agreement with Washington. NSG - a 48-nation grouping that includes the US, Russia, Britain, France and Japan - controls the export of nuclear technology and materials to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"By giving India a special status, Japan has compromised its formerly rigid stance on the NPT," underlined Kawasaki. "The Japanese-Indian deal is a significant step away from Japan's symbolic role as a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament."
Suspicions and assurances
The concerns about India using Japanese nuclear technology for military purposes hinges on details in the agreement that are yet to be disclosed. "There are several crucial outstanding issues that have not been resolved," Toby Dalton, an expert on non-proliferation and nuclear energy at the Washington-based think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told DW.
First, there is the question on whether or not India would be able to reprocess the nuclear fuel. To ensure that this does not happen, India has to give legally-binding assurances to the NSG and allow the tracking of nuclear material that it will use for its civilian program.
The second question is what happens if India carries out additional nuclear tests. The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun reported on Sunday, November 5, that Japan will halt cooperation with New Delhi if the South Asian country conducts another nuclear test. The opt-out clause, according to the newspaper, will not be included in the agreement itself, but in a separate memorandum.
India signed a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests after it last detonated a bomb in 1998, but the country is still not a signatory to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. "This lack of adherence and transparency undermines the confidence-building system for non-proliferation that has been constructed over the past 50 years," argued Dalton.
Lastly, the question of liability in the case of an accident at a Japanese-supported nuclear plant remains unresolved.
Advocates of the treaty point out that India has already signed similar nuclear agreements with NSG members. Also, many Indian experts believe that the chances of India conducting another atomic test are slim. "Considering the fact that India is aspiring for a larger global role, there is no way New Delhi would want to divert from its self-imposed moratorium," said Pattanaik. "For India, there is no need to increase its nuclear arsenal as it has a stable deterrent put in place."