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Futile and Dangerous: Bombing Yemen in the Name of Shipping

What a show. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was promoting a message of calm restraint and firm control in limiting the toxic fallout of Israel’s horrific campaign in Gaza, a decision was made by his government, the United Kingdom and a few other reticent collaborators to strike targets in Yemen, including the capital Sana’a. These were done, purportedly, as retribution for attacks on international commercial shipping in the Red Sea by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The wording in a White House media release mentions the operation’s purpose and the relevant participants. “In response to continued illegal, dangerous, and destabilizing Houthi attacks against vessels, including commercial shipping, transiting the Red Sea, the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom, with support from the Netherlands, Canada, Bahrain, and Australia, conducted joint strikes in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense.”

US Air Forces Central Command further revealed that the “multinational action targeted radar systems, defense systems, and storage and launch sites for one way attack unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.”

The rationale by the Houthis is that they are targeting shipping with a direct or ancillary Israeli connection, hoping to niggle them over the barbarities taking place in Gaza. As the Israeli Defence Forces are getting away with, quite literally, bloody murder, the task has fallen to other forces to draw attention to that fact. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdusalam’s post was adamant that “there was no threat to international navigation in the Red and Arabian Seas, and the targeting was and will continue to affect Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine.”

But that narrative has been less attractive to the supposedly law-minded types in Washington and London, always mindful that commerce trumps all. Preference has been given to such shibboleths as freedom of navigation, the interests of international shipping, all code for the protection of large shipping interests. No mention is made of the justification advanced by the Houthi rebels and the Palestinian plight, a topic currently featuring before the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Another feature of the strikes is the absence of a Security Council resolution from the United Nations, technically the sole body in the international system able to authorise the use of force under the UN Charter. A White House statement on January 11 attributes authority to the strikes much the same way the administration of George W. Bush did in justifying the warrantless, and illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (Ditto those on his same, limited bandwidth, Tony Blair of the UK and John Howard of Australia.) On that occasion, the disappointment and frustrations of weapons inspectors and rebukes from the UN about the conduct of Saddam Hussein, became vulnerable to hideous manipulation by the warring parties.

On this occasion, a “broad consensus as expressed by 44 countries around the world on December 19, 2023” and “the statement by the UN Security Council on December 1, 2023, condemning Houthi attacks against merchant and commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea” is meant to add ballast. Lip service is paid to the self-defence provisions of the UN Charter.

In a separate statement, Biden justified the attack on Houthi positions as necessary punishment for “unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea – including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history.” He also made much of the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian, “a coalition of more than 20 nations committed to defending international shipping and deterring Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.” No mention of the Israeli dimension here, at all.

In addition to the pregnant questions on the legality of such strikes in international law, the attacks, at least as far as US execution was concerned, was far from satisfactory to some members of Congress. Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashita Tlaib was irked that US lawmakers had not been consulted. “The American people are tired of endless war.” Californian Rep. Barbara Lee warned that, “Violence only begets more violence. We need a ceasefire now to prevent deadly, costly, catastrophic escalation of violence in the region.”

A number of Republicans also registered their approval of the stance taken by another Californian Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna, who expressed with certitude the view that Biden had “to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen and involving us in another middle eastern conflict.” Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah was in full agreement, as was West Virginia Republican Rep. Thomas Massie. “Only Congress has the power to declare war,” Massie affirmed.

Unfortunately for these devotees of Article I of the US Constitution, which vests Congress approval powers for making war, the War Powers Act, passed by Congress in November 1973, merely requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of military action, and the termination of such action within 60 days of commencement in the absence of a formal declaration of war by Congress or authorisation of military conflict. These days, clipping the wings of the executive when it comes to engaging in conflict is nigh impossible.

There was even less of a debate about the legality or wisdom of the Yemen strikes in Australia. Scandalously, and with a good deal of cowardice, the government preferred a deafening silence for hours in the aftermath of the operation. The only source confirming that personnel of the Australian Defence Forces were involved came from Biden, the commander-in-chief of another country. There had been no airing of the possibility of such involvement. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had, in not sending a warship from the Royal Australian Navy to join Operation Prosperity Guardian, previously insisted that diplomacy might be a better course of action. Evidently, that man is up for turning at a moment’s notice.

In a brief statement made at 4.38 pm on of January 12 (there was no press conference in sight, no opportunity to inquire), Albanese declared with poor conviction that, “Australia alongside other countries has supported the United States and the United Kingdom to conduct strikes to deal with this threat to global rules and commercial shipping.” He had waited for the best part of a day to confirm it to the citizenry of his country. He had done so without consulting Parliament.

Striking the Houthis would seem, on virtually all counts, to be a signal failure. Benjamin H. Friedman of Defense Priorities sees error piled upon error: “The strikes on the Houthis will not work. They are very unlikely to stop Houthi attacks on shipping. The strikes’ probable failure will invite escalation to more violent means that may also fail.” The result: policymakers will be left “looking feckless and thus tempted to up the ante to more pointless war to solve a problem better left to diplomatic means.” Best forget any assuring notions of taking the sting out of the expanding hostilities. All roads to a widening war continue to lead to Israel.

 

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12 comments

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  1. Old bloke

    In spite of what was achieved at the Nuremburg trials after WWII, it seems that all that has really changed are the nationalities of the white skinned criminal monsters.

  2. Jon Chesterson

    THESE UNFORGIVING KILLING FIELDS – THE ‘WEST’ BLUNDERS AGAIN!

    Once again America and UK making the cardinal mistake of setting up a coalition of the willing and ignoring the UN to which they are key signatories – Utter hypocrisy and flagrant violation of international laws. They did it in Iraq and still not learned their lesson. Attacking Yemen itself constitutes the same violation on human rights and condones Israel’s genocide in Gaza. I say genocide and not ‘alleged’, since the evidence speaks for itself more than 23,000 innocent citizens of Palestine slaughtered, mostly women and children and their entire city and nation flattened – How does declaring war on and slaughtering a whole people or country justify a measured and specific response to an act of terrorism? I remove ‘alleged’ from my argument because the US and UK don’t wait for or respect the Rule of Law -International Law, so why should I or anyone wait for a Court’s jurisdiction to condemn their action. Furthermore, Yemen – one of the poorest countries and people in the Middle East clearly demonstrates the US and UK led coalition of the willing to be bullies and cowards, embroiling themselves in a potential repeat genocide of what Israel is doing in Gaza, and what they have done before in Iraq, covered up and got away with. Is there little wonder in the world, why Putin invades Ukraine, Israel on Gaza, Trump in America, insurrection, terrorism, war lords and wars persist in our world when the so called ‘West’ behaves so badly, violating and invalidating its own arguments of reliance and responsibility on international law.

    As for Australia – Mr Albanese, do not fall into this trap again like sycophant warmongering Howard! Stay out of it. Do not add innocent blood overseas to the conscience and people of Australia. Stand up for once someone, somewhere if you want to protect human rights and these unforgivable killing fields. We are watching!

  3. Phil Pryor

    Evil.., the USA blurts out that we in Australia, uninformed, are part of an imperious, illegal, uberbash of a small poor nation, to suit our economic outlook. Righteous murder as an ingrained superstitious tradition of religious irrational stupidity is WRONG, always. It might have once been a whitey, Christianityprofanitymurderfest world, but “we” are not automatically superior, legal, right.

  4. Steve Davis

    All correct Phil.

    The essence of the problem can be seen in this from the article — “…the supposedly law-minded types in Washington and London, (who are) always mindful that commerce trumps all.”

    It’s all about money. Always.

  5. New England Cocky

    I agree with above comments against Australian involvement in any Middle East military action on any scale.
    .
    The loss of Australian sovereignty with the USUKA debacle is clearly demonstrated with this decision. However, I doubt whether Retched Mediocrity is smart enough to read the clues.
    .
    Oh well, we fought them in the streets over Vietnam and even now we are older & smarter so it may be time to man the barricades again.
    .
    Australia belongs in Asia NOT Europe.

  6. Douglas Pritchard

    What does a wealthy country (We wont mention DEBT here) do with its time and money?
    Forget education, health, measures to improve the life of its taxpayers.
    No, its to level any opposition, reduce it to so much scrap metal, and brick dust.
    And the refugees from these calamities?.
    Why we simply push them back and flatten them too.
    Thats life for the band of “THE WILLING”.

  7. Terence Mills

    Seeing on TV hundreds of thousands marching against the US and Britain in Sanaa, Yemen makes me think there is something going on here that we are not being told about : we were told a rogue group of Houthis were the target but this looks infinitely bigger.

  8. paul walter

    How many hundreds of thousands they have murdered over this century..

    Why should they even remotely like us?

  9. Clakka

    Increasingly, Uncle Sam’s faltering self-confidence and growing internal cancers are leading it nowhere but increased nihilistic brutality whilst seeking to clutch to its hegemony. As usual it gives off a mist of diplomacy to disguise its desperation to sell arms to prop its failing militarist economy, and to achieve both its hegemony and its sales, it whispers devil’s alternatives, raw deals and provocations in the ears of friends and foes alike.

    As if straight out of Holywood, it simply adopts a different mask and script for its gravitas depending upon its target audience. Hiding away in its almost impenetrable bunker of the (un)United States, shaky and paranoid like a junkyard dog at the best of times. Since WWII, rather than reinvent itself and divert its bulwark military industry to better purpose, it seems to have opted for laziness whilst managing to spread its cancers, delusional self-righteousness, toxic bling-based soporifics, snake-oil potions and faltering self-confidence to the rest of the world unabated.

    Its coalition of the willing, is more like a coalition of the shit-scared. They know it doesn’t kowtow to international law, and that the oft cited ‘rules-based-order’ to them is solely their version of a ‘rules-based-order’. And that they especially love baiting lunatics and loose-cannons like Putin and Netanyahu.

    It would be tiresome to list its exploitative incursions. Suffice it to say, the accumulation of debts to, and threats from Uncle Sam and its all-consuming bulk has made it difficult to circumnavigate. And even self-prescribing a diet, let alone taking a dose of salts to prevent cardio-financial arrest would give rise to a national cry of outrage; a treason against free-market rights and indulgences.

    So its coterie of 5-eyes+ participants, now also junkyard dogs, trapped by the dysfunctional parliament of the orotund Uncle Sam, regardless of their hope for some peaceful enlightenment, don’t seem to maintain the ability of free-will to turn their heads in the direction of that hope.

    A precocious lunatic or two, like Putin and Netanyahu can set it all off. A contest of the King, the pretenders and the others. Such irony that its all yet again centered in the most strategically important theatre on the planet; the ‘Holy Land’, Palestine / Israel, and the diverse interests in the bleachers.

    Oh, that mad King Uncle Sam should run amok with a stick and a turd is no surprise. Much like the multi-layered dilemma of Henry VIII, I am he, who to fuck with am I. I lay down my law. With whom do I marry and lay down? So many heads, so many basket cases. So many counselors it taxes me, so I tax and they demur. I am inspired divine, yet not, only by half or less. So I divine my own rules and apply them.

    And the death cult persists, amongst the myths and mists of diplomacy.

    In the blood-soaked traces of the ever increasing deserts.

    For the accumulation of wealth and the hereditary line.

  10. paul walter

    I award a gold star AND an elephant stamp for a good set of comments.

  11. B Sullivan

    We are told that all it takes for evil to prevail is for a good man to do nothing. Anthony Albanese has chosen to act in support of genocide rather than condemn it. He has crossed something far more serious than a union picket line, and he has dragged Australia across that line with him, making Australia an accessory to genocide. It would have been better if he had done nothing. A good man would be supporting the Houthis’ blockade on shipping to Israel not opposing it.

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