Sleepwalking into war
Following months of bellicose exchange between Riyadh and Tehran, deadly actions could soon follow. Or have we already arrived at a true declaration of war, issued on 5 November by Tuki Al Maleki on Saudi television? Maleki is the spokesman of one of the alliances led by the Saudis, one that has been fighting against Houthi rebels for two-and-a-half years.
Iran had just committed an act of aggression against a neighbouring country ″that endangers peace and security in the region,″ said Maleki, in a dry and ambiguous tone. He was referring to a missile fired from Yemen that had been intercepted dangerously close to Riyadh airport just a few hours earlier. The missile had originated from Iran and the attack was therefore an ″act of Iranian aggression,″ said the Saudi military spokesman.
On the escalation scale there are few steps higher than this. This ″declaration of war″ by the two rivals is likely to have dangerous ramifications for the entire Middle East region.
Full blockade on Yemen
Yemen has been under a full blockade by the Saudis for a week now. Nothing is being allowed to enter the country from outside, not even food or medicine. Even aid organisations are being affected by this punitive measure: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) claims it was not able to import a cargo of chlorine tablets. These are used to prepare drinking water and are needed in the fight against cholera. 900,000 people have already died of cholera in Yemen. The ICRC estimates this figure will rise to one million by the end of the year.
In addition to this, the United Nations says seven million people are threatened with starvation. The UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Marc Lowcock is warning of the ″biggest famine the world has seen in decades,″ and says the situation is not even comparable with that of southern Sudan or Somalia. On Monday the Saudis announced they would be easing the full blockade, but only for their allies and the port city of Aden.
End of the moratorium in Lebanon
The Saudis are continuing to turn the escalation screw. After Yemen, it is now the turn of Lebanon. Almost simultaneously with the rocket attack from Yemen, the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation – on Saudi television. This was more than a just a resignation. It was also the end of the moratorium agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Lebanon.
This tacit agreement was of existential importance for the nation. It led to a kind of national reconciliation. It has enabled Lebanon to keep its distance from the Syrian civil war, the Sunni Muslim Hariri to become prime minister and meant the Shia Hezbollah militia entered his government at the behest of Tehran. This moratorium is now history.