Drone attacks allegedly by Houthi rebels this past weekend on the Abqaiq facility and the Khurais oil field effectively knocked out five million barrels of processed crude oil from the world market. If this number doesn’t sound impressive, it amounts to about 5% of the world’s energy supply. Although the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels have been targeting Saudi Arabia in retaliation for their participation in the civil war in Yemen, this attack is different. Knocking out this critical facility will potentially cause prices to rise significantly for almost every commodity due to the reduction of global energy supplies. Since energy influences the price of transportation, which in turn influences the price of food and other commodities, this may cause prices of goods and services of all types to rise globally. Recent estimates suggest that the price of oil may rise from $60 to over $100 per barrel. That is an enormous shock that will be felt worldwide.
The diffusion of protests against authoritarian regimes across the Arab world in 2011 reinvigorated Yemen’s marginalized social movements and united different geographical and political factions in Yemen, such as the northern Houthi movement and the southern secessionist movement Hiraak.1 The Saudi Kingdom, along with other Gulf monarchies, swiftly designed a transitional plan for the country to ensure that President Ali Abdullah Saleh wass replaced with a friendly government led by President Abd Rabo Hadi. Disillusioned by the transition, the Houthis took military control of the capital Sana’a in September 2014, and Yemen descended into a civil war. On 26 March 2015, Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes on Yemen with the aim to restore the Saudi-backed Hadi government and destroy the Houthi movement. What was initially planned as a limited operation degenerated into a war of attrition without a conclusion insight. Scholars and policy analysts moved quickly to examine the Yemen war as a by-product of Saudi-Iranian rivalry and another manifestation of a region-wide war between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. Yet, the crisis in Yemen is more complex; it is neither an international proxy war nor a sectarian confrontation.
During the early years of the Obama administration, conventional wisdom in Washington held that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict trumped everything else in the Middle East, that no problem could be resolved until that one was out of the way. “Without doubt,” former president Jimmy Carter said, “the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.” The reason, said his former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now a professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, is because, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most combustible and galvanizing issue in the Arab world”.
Similar views were expressed across the political spectrum, from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel and General David Petraeus.
Earlier this week, a damning report from advocacy group The Syria Campaign accused the United Nations of breaching its humanitarian principles by prioritizing cooperation with the Assad government “at all costs.” This is not the first time that such charges have been leveled. An internal inquiry into the UN’s response to the final days of the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war found that officials privileged maintaining good relations with the Colombo regime over their responsibilities to protect human rights.
What is more, the UN has recently been at the receiving end of an avalanche of revelations that it has succumbed to pressure from it member states over its reporting and language:
- Australia lobbied hard to ensure that UNESCO removed the Great Barrier Reef from a list of endangered world heritage sites, despite near universal consensus among scientists studying the reef that it is, indeed, deeply at risk as a result of climate change and runoffs from coastal farms and industrial plants.
- Saudi Arabia threatened to defund UN programs, and to encourage other Islamic countries to do the same, if the UN did not remove a report’s references to patterns of violations against children in Yemen committed by the Saudi-led coalition.
- Morocco threatened to withdraw support for UN operations in retaliation for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referring to Western Sahara as “occupied,” despite the fact that this is precisely the legal situation in that part of the world until a referendum on its future can be held.
- Myanmar insisted that UN officials refrain from using the term “Rohingya” to refer to an ethnic minority in that country and has threatened to withdraw cooperation with any that do. Some, such as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Satish Nambiar, have complied with the regime’s demand, overlooking the right of groups to self-identify. Others, such as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Yanghee Lee continue to use the label and have faced vilification because of it.