Syria and Yemen: A tale of two conflicts




Over the past six years, the world has looked on in horror as a modern-day humanitarian crisis has unfolded in Syria.

Emotive images of young children lying dead and injured from air strikes regularly fill our television screens, and there is no shortage of news reports detailing the ‘human rights abuses’ of the ‘Assad regime’ and its allies in Russia and Iran.

What has received significantly less media coverage however, is the equally barbaric war being waged on Yemen since March 2015, one that has seen thousands of civilians slaughtered by indiscriminate air strikes, and has forced an already impoverished nation into famine.

This disparity in media coverage is no mistake, and to understand why, one must look at the geopolitical, military and financial factors driving both wars.

The conflict in Syria has its roots in Bashar al-Assad’s 2009 refusal to allow US-allied Qatar to build a pipeline through his country into Turkey, one that would have undermined his relationship with Russia.

Having long been a nation that refused to kowtow to the demands of the US hegemony, this came as the final straw.

Following protests calling for government reform that began in March 2011 amid the wider Arab Spring, the CIA began covertly arming and training Salafist groups in a bid to overthrow Assad’s secular leadership.

Similar to what was playing out in Libya at the time, these groups soon took over vast swathes of the country, imposing Sharia law in areas under their control and carrying out ethnic cleansing of minority groups such as Christians and Shi’a.

In 2013, Iran intervened at the request of the Syrian government, fearing that should Syria fall, Tehran would be next in line to experience a US-backed ‘revolution’.

Although this Iranian support played a key role in repelling the terrorists, the most significant turning of the tide in Damascus’ favour was a Russian air campaign that began against militant groups in September 2015, the same time that the Western media began extensive coverage of the refugee crisis.

Using the image of drowned child Aylan Kurdi, the mainstream media done their utmost to drum up support for a ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Syria, one that almost came to fruition this year when the Trump administration launched cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical attack allegedly carried out by government forces.

Such concern for the children of Syria by the Western Media has never been extended to the children of Yemen however.

In March 2015, following the Houthi takeover of the capital Sana’a, a Saudi air campaign began in a bid to restore the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

This mainly targeted the agricultural sector of Yemen, resulting in widespread starvation in what is already the most impoverished country in the Arabian peninsula.

The subsequent collapse of Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems led to the worst Cholera outbreak in recorded history, and the situation has been exacerbated further by a Saudi blockade preventing food and medical supplies from entering the country.

Despite this being the world’s foremost humanitarian crisis, one in which 50,000 children are expected to die by the end of 2017 alone, the situation in Yemen has only garnered a fraction of the media coverage that Syria has received since 2011.

Key to this media whitewashing is the lucrative arms trade between the US and Saudi Arabia.

In May of this year, Donald Trump signed a record $110bn arms deal with the House of Saud, far surpassing previous deals signed with the Kingdom by his predecessors Barack Obama and George Bush.

US Military Advisers have also provided training to Saudi forces since 1953 and play a key role in the Yemeni conflict by providing intelligence to the Saudi command on where to direct air strikes.

This longstanding agreement of military cooperation between both nations not only satisfies the desires of wealthy Defense Contractors but also allows the US to use the Kingdom as a Bulwark against Iranian influence in the region, a common factor in both conflicts as Tehran has long been accused of backing the predominantly Shi’a Houthis.

However unlike the Syrian conflict, which the mainstream media has framed as ‘rebels’ trying to depose a ‘brutal dictator’ backed up by his Russian and Iranian allies, no such narrative can be constructed for the war in Yemen, hence the media silence on what is now amounting to a genocide.


Author Gavin O’Reilly is a Republican and social activist from Dublin, Ireland. He is the Secretary of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee.

This post originally ran on Al-Masdar News