It was a 45-second clip meant to go viral and instill fear – and it did just that.
Posted on social media app Telegram, the video opens with eerie music laid over scenic spots in Abu Dhabi, a small oil-rich city in the United Arab Emirates that is home to luxury resorts, man-made islands and cool oases.
Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen, then appears with a stern warning.
“From today, all countries that have economic relations with the UAE and all countries that have significant investments with the UAE should not consider the UAE as a safe country.”
The screen fades to black, followed by rapid shots of fighter jets flying low over oil refineries, city skyscrapers and warships appear. The screen goes black again and the clip ends with a final message that cheekily references Abu Dhabi’s prized reputation as one of the safest cities in the world. “Abu Dhabi… Safe City” flashes on the screen. The words suddenly die out and the slogan is replaced with “The UAE is no longer safe”.
It was a startling omen for residents of this oil-rich capital – the vast majority of whom are expats who have never witnessed terror attacks in the emirate, despite their government’s involvement in the civil war. seven years in Yemen.
Nearly a quarter of a million people have died since the start of the war and more than three quarters of the people of Yemen are in need of humanitarian aid. The Houthis have been fighting the Yemeni government since 2014, when they took control of the country’s capital, Sanaa. The civil war became a regional conflict, as Saudi Arabia and other states fought the Houthis, while Iran supported them.
Canada continued to arm Saudi Arabia, despite evidence that Canadian weapons were used in the war in Yemen.
On January 17, a drone attack claimed by Houthi fighters blew up three tankers near the port of Abu Dhabi, killing three workers and starting a fire at its international airport.
A Saudi-led and UAE-backed coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen was quick to retaliate.
Hours later, two airstrikes hit a former senior official in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. Brig. General Abdullah Qassem al-Junaid was killed instantly, along with more than a dozen other members of his immediate family, employees and neighbors.
These latest attacks are unfolding in predictable ways that only deepen regional tensions and expose the hypocrisy of coalition allies.
When will Canadians start to question our government’s judgmental alliance with a regime that beheads dissidents and drops bombs on Yemeni children sitting on school buses?
Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator, continues to justify retaliatory raids, stressing Yemen’s “full right to revenge[the sufferings of] victims by all legitimate means. The UAE is calling for a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss “terrorist attacks that were launched in complete disregard of international law”. (Because launching a military campaign in a country where half of its 26 million people were already malnourished clearly does not constitute a violation of international law). And Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett offered security and intelligence support to UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in a letter published January 18, also tweeting: “Israel stands with the UAE . I am on the side of Mohammed bin Zayed. The world should oppose terrorism. (Except when it comes to aerial bombings of the Gaza Strip, of course).
The latest developments are also a resounding reminder of the continued shameful complicity of Washington and Ottawa in weaponizing the richest country in the Arab region against the poorest.
The scale of human suffering in Yemen is unfathomable. An ongoing cholera outbreak in Yemen since 2016 has resulted in millions of infections and thousands of deaths, widespread starvation and an increase in child marriages and child soldiers. The UN reports that a child under the age of five dies every 10 minutes from a preventable cause.
The response from the international community has been mortifying. Instead of calling for an end to hostilities, the US Senate last December blocked a resolution that would have banned a $650 million sale of missiles and missile launchers to Saudi Arabia. US President Joe Biden approved the sale in November, although he said in his first foreign policy speech last February “the war in Yemen must end”.
Canada also continues to arm Saudi Arabia to the teeth, exporting tens of millions of light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia every month under the $15 billion deal brokered by the Canadian government in 2014.
“Canada could refuse new exports, which it should do”
These shipments are continuing despite Ottawa’s obligations to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), notes Kelsey Gallagher, one of the authors of a damning report released last summer by Project Plowshares, a disarmament group based in Waterloo, Ontario, and Amnesty International. The report examined Canada’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the context of the ATT, which Canada officially joined in 2019. It included pictorial evidence that armored vehicles produced in Ontario by General Dynamics are used by the coalition forces in Yemen and urged Ottawa to suspend all arms exports to Riyadh.
“Canada could refuse new exports, which it should do,” says Gallagher. “When an ATT state party learns that an end user is diverting weapons, it has an obligation to mitigate that risk, which may include denying further exports.”
But did Canada deny a permit application from Saudi Arabia on the grounds that it violates international human rights laws?
“I don’t know of a single case of that,” Gallagher says.
Clearly, war is good for the arms industry – and Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest arms consumers in the world.
But Washington and Ottawa must also heed the soft power efforts of the kingdom’s ruthless Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to maintain a dominant narrative that demonizes the Houthis while portraying the Saudis as seeking peace.
A Guardian investigation last year, for example, revealed how Saudi Arabia used incitement and threats as part of a lobbying campaign to shut down a UN probe into rights abuses. human rights committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen. Political and diplomatic sources with deep knowledge of the lobbying effort described an orchestrated campaign to sway officials to ensure the measure was defeated – Indonesia, for example, was warned that its COVID-19 vaccination certificates 19 could be considered invalid for travelers to Mecca, and the African nation of Togo has been offered money to support counter-terrorism activities. Indonesia and Togo voted against the measure.
So when are we going to start caring about Yemen? When will Canadians start to question our government’s judgmental alliance with a regime that beheads dissidents and drops bombs on Yemeni children sitting on school buses?
The UN investigation concluded that no actor in this war has clean hands. Yet Canadian taxpayers directly arm one party.