While many of the media reports have focussed on Saudi Arabia, less attention has been given to the Emirates, who are leading the ground offensive and are also involved in the naval war.
Among their arsenal, German-made technology and weapons are a common sight: DW and its partners were also able to identify several large military trucks in the convoy that included the Fewas weapons stations, but also in other locations in Yemen. They are MAN trucks, most likely built and exported to the Emirates by RMMV, a joint venture of German defence giant Rheinmetall and truck manufacturer MAN.
In the footage that the team viewed, MAN trucks were spotted in Yemen carrying the French-made battle tank Leclerc, which is equipped with a German-made motor. The team also identified the Leclerc tank wrapped in an extra layer of armour, most likely "Composite Lightweight Adaptable Reactive Armour" or Clara for short, a type of reactive armour that protects against explosives, also designed by Dynamit Nobel Defence.
By March 2017, the war in Yemen had been dragging on for two years. Yet the German government approved the export of "reactive armour" worth roughly €126 million to the UAE.
At that point, it is hard to imagine the chancellery and top political aides being unaware that the Emiratis were using Leclerc tanks for their ongoing ground offensive, which relies on a myriad of brutal local militias and mercenaries.
Torture by UAE forces?
Amnesty International has documented numerous human rights abuses committed by the UAE and their allied forces. According to a 2018 report, scores of men have been spirited away and detained in secret prisons in southern Yemen. Many have been tortured; some are feared to have died in custody.
DW spoke to one man who said he was detained in Aden in 2016 for refusing to assassinate a local political figure. While DW is unable to independently verify his account, the details are consistent with the testimony of other victims. The man was held in various locations, he said, all run by Emiratis: "The one who tortures is an Emirati. The one who interrogates is an Emirati. The jailor is an Emirati." He told DW he was kept for one year and eight months and "exposed to the cruellest types of torture, such as electric shocks and hanging for hours." But that is only one of the many tragedies that make up the conflict in Yemen.
It is civilians who bear the brunt of the war, which has dragged on for almost four years: According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a database that tracks armed conflicts, more than 60,000 people have been killed. Atrocities, possibly even war crimes, are being committed on both sides.
By supplying arms to the coalition partners, Western governments including Germany's "are directly complicit in the war crimes being committed by the Saudi-led coalition," Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told the research team.
International human rights organisations agree: the Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of airstrikes that have indiscriminately and disproportionately targeted civilians and civilian targets, including schools, mosques and hospitals.
Assab: Operational base for Yemen war
The coalition blockade of the port city of Hodeidah, the country's main entry point for food and medicines, has led to mass starvation and hunger, while pushing up the price of everyday goods. Footage of emaciated and starving children has become the go-to stock imagery used in news reports on the war in Yemen.
Only 60 kilometres separate the Yemeni coast from the Eritrean port of Assab located across the strait of Bab al Mandab. According to the UN, the Arab coalition is using "Eritrean land, airspace and territorial waters in its anti-Houthi military campaign."
From Assab, Emirati warships can quickly set across the strait to the Yemeni port cities of Hodeidah or Mokha, rather than having to undertake the long journey from their home ports via the Gulf of Aden. In 2015, according to UN experts, the Emiratis and Eritrea signed a 30-year lease, which allows for the UAE to use the port of Assab. In a war that has relied on a naval blockade, this is a major strategic advantage.
The port is also used to shuttle soldiers and military gear across the strait. In return, Eritrea is said to receive money and oil. But it's a deal that the United Nations has criticised as violating the weapons embargo that they imposed in 2009 against the totalitarian state.
Until it was lifted last November, it forbade all UN members to bring soldiers or military equipment to Eritrea. The Emirates, though, didn't seem to be overly bothered: It stationed part of its navy in the port of Assab, including several German-built warships.
Several satellite images show a long, grey ship towed to a dock in Assab with a conspicuous helipad, most recently in late 2018 and early 2019: it is a Muray Jib corvette, a 65-metre-long combat vessel, built by the German shipbuilder Lurssen.
On its website, the company advertises the Muray Jib as suitable for operations "in confined and shallow water”, which would make it well-equipped for coastal waters.