Stay Out of Yemen –the Risks of a Saudi Partnership

by Stephen Bryen


On June 6 last Shoshana Bryen and I wrote an article for American ThinkerStay Out of Yemen.


In that article we made the case that American involvement in Yemen would only help Iran.  “Expanding the American role in Yemen would serve Iran’s strategic interests rather than our own.  The Iranians hope a bigger American footprint in Yemen – along with deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria – will sap American resources, cost lives, sow civil discord, and reduce American prestige.  Iran believes that its stock will rise accordingly.”  We also said: “The Houthis are not America’s enemy; the enemy is Iran, which declared war on us in 1979 and pursues a variety of strategies to wear us down while it pursues its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”


The Houthis today control the entrances to the Red Sea through the strategic Bab el-Mandeb straits.  Recently some Saudi ships were attacked.  Saudi Arabia claimed it was an attack on two oil tankers, one of which was damaged and needed repair.  But the Houthis said that they attacked a Saudi frigate –I raised this question in an Asia Times article on July 28th.  The Houthis said the damaged or sunk frigate was the HMS Al-Dammam, but did not provide other details.  The Saudis never named the oil tankers allegedly hit, but the betting is that it was a Saudi frigate and not an oil tanker that was damaged.  Saudi Arabia wants to draw the US into the Yemen war, and probably figures that if there is a credible threat to oil transit and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, maybe the US will more actively support the Saudi coalition war in Yemen.  Less than two weeks later the Iranians also put on a naval “exercise” in the Persian Gulf, trying to demonstrate their ability to interdict oil tankers and shipping in the Gulf.  Maybe they thought that would also pull the US into a furtive war in Yemen.
But the entire game was heavily punctuated by a needless and cruel Saudi coalition attack on a school bus in Sana’a.  The bus was obliterated by a precision guided bomb which killed 50 or more people outright, mostly school kids riding on the bus and some civilians nearby.


Remains of school bus destroyed by Saudi attack

The weapon was a 500 lb Mark 82 gravity bomb equipped with a laser guidance kit that came from the United States.  It is quite capable of knocking out moving vehicles, and it appears almost certain that the intention was to hit the school bus which the Saudis insisted was not full of school children.


What would a white school bus be carrying and why is it anyway a legitimate target that was destroyed in front of some shops in the town?


There are different possible explanations.
One is that the Saudis thought the bus was loaded with soldiers.  But the Houthis have plenty of transport and are not known to use school buses.  Nor have the Saudis claimed that the bus was full of soldiers, only that in their view the bus was a “legitimate military” target.  


This raises the strong possibility that the school bus attack was intentional and was retaliation for missile strikes launched by the Houthis against Saudi Arabian territory, including the Saudi capital Riyadh.  The Houthis fired a number of missiles, most of which either missed their targets or were shot down by Patriot missiles.


The missiles came from Iran, as the Saudis well know.  While we have no direct intelligence, a closer look at the Houthi operations will probably uncover Iranian or North Korean technicians helping the Houthis fire these missile salvos.  The question is this: rather than retaliate against school children living in Houthi controlled areas (who themselves may not be Houthis), why not retaliate against Iran or Iranian assets?  This question begs for an answer since it quite clear that Iran has literally been getting away with murder not only in Yemen, but in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and in supplying weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas aimed at Israel.


The US is the primary arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, and also helps the Saudis by supporting their operations in Yemen in various ways (intelligence, refueling Saudi aircraft, special operations).  Should the US reconsider providing this assistance?


Washington needs to ponder this question, as it is all important.  The US will surely hand a major victory to Iran if it supports an ally who can only kill school children.  Saudi Arabia needs to know such behavior is unacceptable and dangerous. Meanwhile the US must stay out of Yemen.