On September 8th 2016, the Saudi-led coalition attacked a funeral ceremony that was taking place at the Al Kubra hall in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. The funeral was for the father of former Interior Minister Jalal al-Rowaishan. Besides political actors from the Houthi government, also in attendance were leaders of tribes that are not involved in the conflict between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition.
The Al Kubra hall holds up to 2000 people and witnesses reported that the building was fully packed. 155 people were killed and at least 525 were wounded in this airstrike, making it the deadliest attack since the war started in 2015.
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was the last legitimately elected leader of Yemen. After the Houthis announced a new rebel-led government, he fled from the country. Hadi is strongly allied with the Saudi-led coalition who aim to restore him to power. Opponents accuse his presidency of being installed by foreign forces, namely Saudi Arabia.
At first, the coalition denied responsibility for the attack and claimed that they had not carried out any airstrike on the funeral hall. After one week, however, they admitted that the airstrike had been delivered by one of their combat aircraft, but it was due to incorrect information by an unnamed party from the Yemeni Air Operation Center.
The first Saudi combat aircraft bomb dropped at 3:20 p.m. The second one came 6 to 7 minutes later. This sequence of attacks is called a ‘double tap’ and is classed as a war crime because, since it is typical for relatives and paramedics to enter an attacked building as soon as possible to look for survivors, it clearly targets civilians.
The Saudi-led coalition accuses Iran of supporting the Houthi Rebels financially and militarily. A spokesman for the coalition claims they have evidence that the Islamic Republic is smuggling weapons into the area that have not been part of the Yemeni army before. An unnamed former senior Iranian security official assumes Iran wants to establish a Hizbollah-like force in the area. Iran declines any support for the Houthi Rebels.
Many conflicts in the Middle East can be tied to the century-old rivalry between Sunni and Shia groups. The two strongest forces in that area are Iran and Saudi Arabia. Similar to such conflicts as the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s or the ongoing conflict in Lebanon, the crisis in Yemen seems to be a proxy war between these two countries. Like Iran, the Houthi Rebels are a Shia group, whereas most of the countries of the Saudi-led coalition are Sunni. The Rebels are using the slogan ‘Allah is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam’, printed on flags and sprayed on walls in Iran’s national colours of red and green. This slogan has its origins in the Iranian revolution of 1979, established by the first leader of the Republic Ayatollah Khomeini.
7 The $110 Billion Dollar Deal
The warplanes used ‘air-dropped GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bomb[s]’. This particular munition is manufactured by the American and British armaments concerns Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Cooperation. In 2016, at least 3,200 Paveway bombs were delivered to Saudi Arabia. After the 110-billion-dollar deal, Lockheed Martin announced possible new business worth of 20 billion dollars.
In the first half of 2017, the United Kingdom made £3.3 billion of arms exports to Saudi Arabia in total. Even two years earlier, Saudi Arabia was in possession of twice as many British-made warplanes then the United Kingdom itself.
After the funeral attack, the UK considered to stop the licence sales. But the Foreign Minister Boris Johnson recommended to continue the business, stating that ‘The clear risk threshold for refusal … has not yet been reached’. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) initiated a juridical review of the UK’s involvement in the war in Yemen, but the case got decided in favour of the government. The UK continues to sell weapon-export licences.
The United States is the nation with the highest annual military expenditure in the world. Between 2015 and 2016, the US spent 611 billion dollars on its military. The White House condemned the attack on the funeral and announced its aim to initiate an investigation into the case. Subsequently, the US increased their arms exports. In May 2017, Presiden Donald Trump’s team arranged an arms deal with Saudi Arabia that is worth nearly 110 billion dollars. This deal is considered to be one of the largest of its kind in history. Aide Gary Cohn commented on the deal as ‘a lot of money. Big dollars. Big dollars’