By Irina Tsukerman
US media and members of Congress, amidst escalating tensions between the US and Iran, found it appropriate to focus their energies on Saudi Arabia, instead.
Several outlets, including the NY Times, wrote that the President Trump administration may or “is about to” use a legal loophole to continue arms sales to KSA despite opposition from some members of Congress. Two days earlier, NY Times, et al presented stories on how US weapons end up hitting hospitals in Yemen – forgetting to note, that Houthis, just like their counterpart Hizbullah, use hospitals to store weapons and fighters, frequently using civilians as human shields to ensure high casualty count and to create bad optics for the Arab Coalition. In the span of 3 days, NY Times had at least 3 stories related to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE, including one about Saudi warplanes, which “bomb civilians” in Yemen.
This grossly misleading headline left out the fact that 1) Yemeni government is working with the Arab Coalition to put down Iran-backed rebellion of a radicalized Houthi faction, which has been stealing humanitarian aid and terrorizing Yemeni and Saudi civilians 2) No one is aiming at civilians – the war effort is against a highly dangerous movement, with sophisticated weaponry from Iran and advanced training from Hizbullah, which has also received assistance from Iran experts on the ground and 3) Sadly, collateral damage happens in any war, but the numbers are higher when the other side employs blatantly illegal and unethical practices, such as holding civilians hostage and using them as human shields. NY Times coverage of the war in Yemen is bad enough; worse still is the silence about attacks against Saudi civilians.
The Iran-backed attacks on Saudi oil tankers and Aramco sites in KSA attracted worldwide attention because they raised the question of a possible confrontation with Iran in the Gulf. However, the moment the White House sent in B-52s to Qatar and USS Abraham Lincoln and other forces to the Gulf following the intelligence US received from Israel about a likely threat to US troops in Iraq from the Iran-backed Shi’a militias, attention shifted away from the attacks on Saudi Arabia and towards widespread and unsupported speculation about the likelihood of a conventional military conflict between the Islamic Republic in the United States.
Despite the US record in avoiding confrontations with Iranian proxies whether in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen or anywhere else, an organized media campaign of former Obama administration officials issued dire warnings about prospects for an all-out war. That has held the world’s attention for the past week; voices from Congress described the war in simplistic one-sided terms, expressing concern about US selling bombs that Saudi Arabia would “drop on Yemen” – a description of the war effort worthy maybe of a Disney cartoon. Pro-Obama writers such as Peter Beinart, rather than focusing on Iran’s unprovoked attacks against oil tankers and threats to block up the international waterways in the Strait of Hormuz instead spent time describing why Saudi Arabia is supposedly as bad as Iran. (When Saudi Arabia starts making such threats or attacking other countries’ oil tankers for no reason, a rational reader would be justified in giving more credence to such comparisons).
Democratic lawmakers openly sided with Iran after a recent intelligence briefing, even defending IRGC from the classification as a terrorist organization by the administration – failing to explain how else an organization that recently attempted multiple assassinations and terrorist attacks in Europe should be described. This callous lack of interest for basic human rights of Middle Easterners forced to content with the repercussion of Iranian regional aggression is becoming increasingly surreal as the very same lawmakers and media “experts” claim to care about minimizing the death toll in Yemen or tie in the death of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood former Saudi government spokesman Jamal Khashoggi to the support for the effort against Iranian aggression in Yemen.
But if these influencers, public officials, and supposedly responsible journalists are so concerned about human rights and security for civilians, where is the outrage about the plight of Saudi civilians suffering from multiple attempted missile attacks by Houthis since the recent Gulf crisis broke out? (That’s not counting multiple such attacks and attempted attacks since 2016). The recent missile attacks targeted Taif (which is 30 km from Mecca), Jeddah (which is 75 km from Mecca), Namas (in the South), and Najran (in the South). 6 missile attacks targeted cities, airports, and urban areas, generating only perfunctory (if any) coverage in the West. Some of the attacks also involved sophisticated drones, which could only have been developed with Iran’s assistance.
These attacks are taking place during the month of Ramadan, when millions of tourists flock to Mecca for Umrah (pilgrimages) and for various events and celebrations in major cities throughout the country. Thanks to the Saudi missile defense system and the vigilance of its security forces, the missiles were intercepted and did not cause damage. The Saudi Royal Air Defense Forces intercepted the ballistic missiles aimed at various sites; the bomb-laded drone aimed at a civilian site in Najran, which could have led to many deaths of regular Saudis residing in the area was also intercepted. Col. Turki Al-Maliki, the spokesman for the coalition forces, warned about a “strong deterrent” against future such attacks.
Nevertheless, such attacks are illegal, deeply immoral, and, no matter how well prepared Saudi Arabia is, are without a question a threat to human lives. Already a major concern, the risk is heightened by the upcoming Mecca-based emergency summit on Iran, which was called by King Salman and which is to take place on May 30. It may attract heads of states and high-level officials from as many as 57 countries. Thanks to the holiday, there may be other major events taking place around the same time.
International silence concerning terrorist actions targeting civilians by the Houthi rebels plays right into Iran’s hand and encourages future attacks. The media’s dehumanizing coverage of the Arab Coalition forces in Yemen contributes to the lack of sympathy for the country overall. Described as bloodthirsty baby killers in the international headlines, most members of the Coalition, just like soldiers in any defensive war, are regular people trying to protect their families, their country, and their allies in Yemen. Hostile, shallow, one-sided, and factually incorrect media coverage creates justification for continuous terrorism and support of a faction that has also become known for its use of torture against captured journalists, prisoners of war, and dissidents.
Repeated accusations of criminality, incompetence, and war crimes with little support beyond optics, frequently leaving out inaccurate intelligence provided to the Arab Coalition or the use of human shields by the Houthis manipulated the perception of a campaign responsive to a real-time threat on the ground, delegitimizing it in the eyes of those who have not followed every development closely. At times, it seems, the media and even some government officials are happy to play along with Iran’s information warfare publicity strategy, demoralizing and attacking allies, and lending moral support to the adversary – which has also just threatened to attack US forces.
Where is the outcry about the war crimes against Saudi Arabia? Where are the calls to bring to justice the terrorists that have aimed to attack civilian sites? Where is the horror at the image of a bomb-laden drone hurtling at a crowd of bystanders who have taken no part in Yemen or any other fighting? Dehumanization of the Saudi-led coalition forces and relentless anti-Saudi campaigns which have taken place throughout the Western media in the past several months have contributed to a vitriolic image of the country itself, so much as that expressing concerns against Saudi citizens who stand in harm’s ways is deemed inappropriate or not meriting a concern by the editors. To make it clear, the aim of these campaigns was not merely to hurt the image of the Saudi government, to make it appear both cruel and weak simultaneously.
The aim was to destroy any empathy Westerners may have for Saudis, to lump in assorted individuals of different backgrounds, interests, and mindsets into a “basket of deplorables”, easily dismissable from any concerns. When no TV segment shows normal Saudi life disrupted by the sounds of the missiles, when there is no discussion of the trauma these missile attacks does for the children growing up in such condition, when there is no unequivocal condemnation of any concerted attack at civilians, when not all lives are presented as equal, the silence and the belligerence of the media, the influencers, the so-called human rights activists, and members of governments, sends a clear message to Iran that Saudi lives just don’t matter.
They also failed to note the extraordinary restraint the Saudi government has exercised in responding to these continuous and brazen attacks, again contributing to creating a baselessly villainous image of KSA.
There is no room for whataboutery as far as civilian lives are concerned. There’s no room for changing the topic to the political decisions of the Saudi government, or to the efficacy of the campaign in Yemen, or to isolated incidents of bad publicity related to Saudi Arabia that have hit the news in recent months. None of that is relevant, none of that matters, not only because the coverage of these events has been unfair, unreasonable, and deliberately malicious, but because the lives of innocent human beings do not depend on the “rightness” of their governments, or the success of a military campaign somewhere else, or the competence level of the Saudi PR apparatus. The only thing that matters is ensuring a secure environment for human beings, none of whom should live under a threat of missile attacks out of the blue.
The next time the Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is visiting Saudi Arabia, he should perhaps consider visiting the wounded Arab coalition troops in the hospital. These our allies who are fighting our war against Iranian aggression, the war that has always targeted Americans as much as Middle Easterners, a fact that we preferred to ignore. We are not aligned with blood-thirsty killers; we are supporting our Saudi friends because we understand the threat that comes from extremists with sophisticated weapons at hands and countless millions worth of propaganda access. And the next time the intrepid journalists who have written countless pages about Khashoggi wish to write about human rights again, perhaps they should visit the civilian sites targeted by the Houthis, spend some time with the regular Saudi people who live there, and see for themselves the results of radical ideology left uncurbed, or worse yet, supported by deluded idealists. If freedom matters to these journalists half as much as they have claimed in their outraged attacks on KSA in various forms, they should be able to squeeze out an iota of the same anger and compassion and to spare a word for Saudi lives, placed at risk deliberately by the terrorists,and recklessly, by their own silence.
This article was first published by herald.report