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More Fog, More War

The brutal illogic of the U.S. attacks on Yemen
An explosion rising above a city in the distance is repeated three times from left to right.

At 2:30 a.m. Sana’a time, shock and awe came to Yemen’s shores.

The United States, with the assistance of the United Kingdom, dropped more than one hundred “precision-guided” bombs across the northwestern part of Yemen, on what officials purported to be key nodes in the military network belonging to the government led by the Houthi movement. Infrastructure related to land, air, and sea operations of the Houthi-led armed forces were all targets. Fireballs, some resembling mushroom clouds, were caught on camera near the Port of Hodeidah, as well as rising above Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a. Seven Yemeni soldiers in these forces were killed in the first round of strikes. The attack coincided with the ninety-eighth day of Israel’s war against Gaza.

American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have become so common as to become almost unremarkable, eliciting only the occasional news story. Strikes in places like Somalia go virtually unmentioned. All of these are justified by the same reasons: terrorism, threats to American bases, threats to allies. The airstrikes in Yemen that began earlier this month and continue still were given a different justification: in response to Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, the United States wished to protect the “freedom of navigation.” If that logic comes off as frustratingly vague, perhaps too vague to justify dropping over one hundred bombs on the poorest country in the Middle East in clear violation of their sovereignty, your intuition would be correct. The lazy appeal to protecting global trade is just the latest in the increasingly unwieldy and ultimately impossible quest by the United States to cover for Israel’s genocidal actions in Gaza, to obfuscate the real reasons for the expanding regional conflict, one that may soon escape the Biden administration’s control—if it hasn’t already.

Attributing blame, connecting dots, and reporting the full picture requires acknowledgement of the reality on the ground in Gaza.

When some Americans hear about such a massive array of strikes on a country they weren’t aware we were bombing before, they tend to seek answers from the television. Most major networks regurgitate State Department lines about Iranian proxy militants and the threat to international trade posed by civilization-despising pirates. If you were to only consume American news or read American newspapers, you might be told the blockade was undertaken in solidarity with Hamas, but you most likely would not be informed of the larger reason behind the Houthi movement’s blockade in the Red Sea, even though the group has stated it unambiguously: to stop the genocide in Gaza, to bring about a permanent ceasefire, and to lift the siege that has put the population at risk of famine greater than anything seen since a UN-affiliated body started measuring extreme hunger. At every turn, the Houthis, officially known as Ansarallah, have communicated their strategy out in the open, telegraphing every single escalation in advance.

On October 10, only three days after Hamas’s attack that left some twelve hundred Israelis dead, and the Israeli campaign of annihilation began in turn, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, Ansarallah’s leader, drew a red line regarding Gaza, after which point the Yemenis would be “prepared to join the fray, using rocket strikes, drones, or any other military option we can.” [Author’s translation.] Twenty-one days later, the Houthi-led government of Yemen officially entered the war with Israel, and began firing drones and missiles toward the Israeli port city of Eilat.

On November 14, al-Houthi expanded the scope of Yemen’s strategy, targeting Israeli ships, and six days later, the Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader cargo ship, whose holding company was co-owned by an Israeli businessman, and towed it to the Port of Hodeidah. On December 9, the Yemeni military, frustrated by the mounting death toll in Gaza, escalated further, announcing they would start targeting all ships heading to Israel through the Red Sea.

In every single statement released by the Yemeni Armed Forces through its spokesman Yahya Saree, the purpose of the intervention—that it is being done in support of Gaza—is emphasized as much as the strike itself. In televised meetings of Yemen’s military, maps of the situation in the Gaza Strip are placed beside maps of American bases in the region. Many of the Houthi leader’s speeches since the war began have focused on Gaza, Yemen’s responsibility toward it as an Arab and Islamic nation, and the necessity of supporting the Palestinians with everything they have.

“Doesn’t this provoke us,” al-Houthi says in one speech made only hours before the first American airstrikes, “from the Israeli side, from the American side, from the British side, [when they] continue to kill children and women, civilians and the defenseless, with all kinds of killing and destruction? The Americans insist and provide bombs to kill the Palestinian people. Britain also insists. The Israelis execute. Doesn’t that provoke us? Doesn’t that make us more determined and persistent to stick to our position, the right position? To have resilience in our position, to escalate on our position?” [Author’s translation.] How often these points are routinely emphasized puts into perspective the inanity of the rhetoric adopted by Western media and its governments: that somehow, in some way, these issues are separate from the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

One should not, of course, fall into the trap of assuming that this military intervention is entirely altruistic: analysts in the Associated Press have noted the potential benefits the Houthis gain from shoring up support among its base. Others have noted it may be placing itself in a better negotiating position with the Saudis as they work out a peace deal. After all, bragging that you are willing to take on a nuclear superpower typically signals a sense of resolve. But the tortured arguments put forward by American and British politicians over the past few weeks have shown the severe weaknesses of their positions.

In the American context, Palestine continues to go virtually unmentioned. Instead, the reports—culled from State Department briefings and White House statements—seem to delight in the language of piracy, threats to international commerce, threats to the free flow of trade, threats to freedom of navigation, and so on and so on. (As for Gaza’s utter lack of freedom of navigation under a seventeen-year naval blockade—well, that’s irrelevant.) The statement issued by President Biden after the wave of strikes on January 12 went so far as to claim that forcing Israel-linked cargo ships to go around the Cape of Good Hope would add “weeks of delays in product shipping times,” perhaps the first time maintaining delivery schedules have been used to justify deadly airstrikes against another country.

In the UK, Palestine warrants mention, but only to emphasize that it is in no way whatsoever connected to the airstrikes campaign the British military just participated in. As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said before the House of Commons earlier this month, we “should make it very clear to the outside world that there is no link between what we have done last week and the situation [in Israel and Gaza].” Sunak’s defense secretary echoed the point, noting that Yemen is “twenty-six hundred kilometers” away from Gaza, which is to say that it’s completely ludicrous to imply that solidarity might cross an international border.

The president of the Houthi government’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee Muhammad Ali al-Houthi, when he was asked by a BBC Arabic reporter about why Gaza had any relevance, despite the distance between them, responded in turn, “So, Biden is Netanyahu’s neighbor? They live in one apartment? The French president also lives on the same floor, and the British prime minister lives with them in the same building?”

Claims are also made by Western reporters and analysts at Gulf-backed think tanks that a ceasefire in Gaza shouldn’t be pursued as a means of solving the crisis as there’s a chance that the Houthis might not actually stop attacking shipping in the Red Sea if the assault on the Strip ceases (even though the Yemenis abided by the terms of the temporary ceasefire in December, as did Hezbollah and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq despite not being party to it). These blanket refusals to acknowledge even the possibility that the blockade in the Red Sea is at all related to the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza is part and parcel of the larger U.S.-driven strategy toward Palestine that has never worked, but nevertheless continues to beat on against the current like the romantic hero of its own story: ignore the Palestinians, and maybe they’ll finally go away.

The wish to simply be rid of the Palestine problem has been the fever dream of multiple American administrations, but it came as close to reality as it ever had in 2020, in the waning days of the Trump administration. The Abraham Accords was a deal for normalization between Arab states ostensibly to protect the Palestinians—but in reality it simply bypassed them. Their marginalization in negotiations over the initial peace deal with the United Arab Emirates was so significant that Palestinian Authority officials stated they were taken completely by surprise by its announcement. Bypassing the Palestinians for peace deals had worked before, with the Egyptians and with the Jordanians, but the speed with which these deals in the 2020s were made, along with the predicaments of the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza having never been worse, put things on the path to where they are now.

Now, the United States appears happy to bypass the Palestinians in the discussion of how many of them should have to die. The State Department talks of dealing with a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza without mentioning who has caused it. In American papers of record, Palestinians almost always seem to die from mysterious bombs that theoretically could have come from anywhere. CNN will report on the spread of disease and the treating of innocent children with deep wounds, but the initiators of their suffering are downplayed. NPR will play audio diaries of doctors working in emergency rooms without adequate staffing, equipment, or medicine, but fail to mention how Israel’s systematic targeting of hospitals brought about these horrors, in direct violation of international law no less.

The only motives to be given prime time coverage are America’s: always moral, always undertaken to protect the international rules-based order.

This type of talk comes so naturally that it is almost reflexive. Attributing blame, connecting dots, and reporting the full picture requires acknowledgement of the reality on the ground in Gaza. It would require going past easy-to-read IDF statements, jeopardizing Israeli contacts and imperiling press access to IDF-guided tours. It would require confronting the fact that a majority of Americans and Brits back a ceasefire in Gaza, and acknowledging that the actions undertaken by Israel would be unconscionable to anyone who has eyes and doesn’t have a heart like a cinder. Therefore, the tried and tested methods of denial return, diminishing returns be damned.

To the American, war, when abetted by Americans, must always be draped in some sort of impenetrable fog. Bullets fly from unknown places, infections and starvation spread just because, and suffering is abstract and inevitable—up until an ally might be blamed. The only motives to be given prime time coverage are America’s: always moral, always undertaken to protect the international rules-based order.

In the ideal world, Palestine would not exist, as is the stated goal of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and all the Palestinians would leave for different countries, as is also the goal of Prime Minister Netanyahu. They are a festering sore: always demanding rights, always putting themselves at the forefront of the news with their suffering, with their death. The thought of actually having to pay attention to Gaza, especially after this war, makes Israel furious. Why can’t these people just go away, leave their homes forever, and let this colonial project proceed.

The responses of the Biden administration—in believing every word of the State of Israel in regards to its atrocities, in pushing through the sale of weapons to the IDF without congressional approval not once but twice, in its trotting out of Antony Blinken to shed crocodile tears for the dead—are the manifestations of this same frustration and anger that the Israelis have, that their strategy they have maintained from the Trump era, now intensified, is not working, and crucially, that no exit strategies exist, even if there are in fact many that are staring them right in the face.

It is an ascription to the deity of Pax Americana. The belief that everything can and will be made right again if we just keep applying the same methods as before, only harder. When asked by a reporter last week whether the airstrikes in Yemen were working, Biden replied, “Well, when you say ‘working’, are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes.”

This time around, the Houthis will finally get the message. When the dust settles, Palestine will accept Saudi-Israel normalization. If we play our cards right, Gaza will finally acquiesce to being leveled.

On January 14, during a days-long telecommunications blackout, video emerged of thousands of Palestinians, stretching out onto the horizon, crowding along the coast, surrounded by the ruins of Gaza City. They are trying to reach what is rumored to be an aid truck, one of the few that has been allowed to enter the Strip. There will not be enough for all of them. Another video emerges, showing those same Palestinians running across rubble, now in the opposite direction. The Israeli military has begun firing on the crowd searching for food. It was the one hundredth day of Israel’s war against Gaza.