Saudi Arabia’s Naval Blockade on Yemen Increases Animosity Towards the United States

A view of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. Photo Credit: Reuters 

By: Jordan Abu-Sirriya, Columnist

The horrendous Yemeni Civil War began in March 2015 as the Houthis—a Shia militia and Iranian proxy—attempted to seize control of the Yemeni government led by President Hadi. Saudi Arabia—the Middle East’s Sunni capital—and other Sunni-majority states hastily entered the conflict by bombarding the Houthis with airstrikes and placing a naval blockade within two years of their entrance.[i] Fearful of Iran’s influence disseminating throughout the Gulf, the U.S. has supported the Saudi-coalition’s military campaign. Unfortunately, Saudi airstrikes have killed and injured thousands of Yemeni civilians, and the naval blockade has halted food and health supplies from reaching Yemenis. As a result, 14 million people, half of Yemen’s population, are currently facing pre-famine conditions, which have begun to surge anti-American sentiment.[ii] In the recent past, the U.S. attempted to starve-out terrorist groups and tyrants to achieve their political objectives. Two cases where the United States employed these Yemen-style tactics were against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In both cases, this starvation approach resulted in an increase of anti-American sentiment amongst the civilian populations, growing radicalization, and a measurable growth in civilians submitting to the tyrant/party in power due to the exacerbated humanitarian crises. Increased Yemeni civilian suffering or dying under circumstances resulting from this starvation approach will only continue to expand the radical, anti-American Yemeni population in the future. Thus, the United States must press Saudi Arabia to end their naval blockade policy and allow food and fuel to enter Yemen immediately.

Similar to current-day Yemen, Iraq between 1990 and 2003 felt the wrath of an American economic blockade that resulted in a horrific humanitarian crisis. Blame for the 1990-2003 Iraqi humanitarian crisis remains largely on the United States by academics and the Iraqi population alike. The United Nations (U.N.)—led by the U.S.—placed sanctions on Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The First Gulf War rapidly forced the Iraqi military to withdraw from Kuwait and return the Kuwaiti government back to power. Yet, the U.N. sanctions were intended to continue until Iraqi President Saddam Hussein complied with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687. The resolution required the Hussein regime to destroy all biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. However, President Bush said, “my view is we don’t want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” [iii] [iv] This decision would go on to distress millions of Iraqis.

Although the U.N. sanctions during the First Gulf War were intended to dwindle Hussein’s control, they affected the most vulnerable population: civilians, especially children. The U.N. sanctions blocked essential medical supplies and food from entering Iraq, and as a result, “infant mortality had skyrocketed, educational outcomes had collapsed and diseases that had disappeared were reappearing, sometimes at epidemic levels.”[v] Most appalling were the effects to children: 227,000 children died from starvation and diseases such as cholera, and twenty percent of all Iraqi children dropped out of school because of economic reasons.[vi] [vii] Dr. Kovach, of Cleveland State University, states economic sanctions create violence and erode human rights through the removal of resources,” and that is precisely what occurred in Iraq throughout the 1990s.[viii] Hussein increased security personnel who then terrorized the Iraqi population, and no dissenting opinions could be said against the regime which led to the erosion of trust between civilians and families. At the end of the 1990s, Iraqis strongly blamed their circumstances and child deaths on the United States and animosity towards the U.S had vastly increased.[ix] [x] On the contrary, Saddam Hussein went untouched by the United Nations’ sanctions.[xi]

Similar to the economic sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s, the stage is being set in Yemen which is already suffering from a disastrous humanitarian crisis. As the Yemeni living situation has exacerbated, human rights have crumbled for Yemeni civilians. Houthi, Saudi, and Saudi-allied forces have “arbitrarily detained people, including children, abused detainees” and forcibly disappeared people who appear to be political opponents.”[xii] Yemenis have no outlet for expressing hopelessness, so it will likely be expressed through anti-American sentiment. As the Saudi naval blockade continues to be enforced, the U.S. should expect a rise in Yemeni antipathy, and possibly violence, towards the U.S.

Another example similar to Yemen is the present-day Gaza Strip blockade which is enforced by Israel and supported by the United States. Israel’s implementation of the blockade continues as Hamas is the de facto governing authority and continues directing violence towards Israel. Yet, similar to current-day Yemen and Iraq of the 1990s, Hamas escapes the brunt of the burden from the blockade. On the other hand, civilians immensely struggle because of the blockade with “72 percent of the population facing food insecurity and 41 percent struggling with unemployment.”[xiii] Drinking water is scarce, as desalinization plants and water treatment centers are defective. Over the last 11 years in the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ popularity has been firmly sustained, and Gazans are more inclined to turn to violence, specifically directed at Israel and the United States.[xiv] Gazans—like Iraqis or any hopeless people—turn to violence as explained by a Gazan man living under the blockade, “I no longer know what to do in Gaza. I tried to work, but I found no jobs. I tried to adapt myself to Gaza life, but I couldn’t because I am a human who wants to live at least a normal life. I tried to leave Gaza to work, but I couldn’t due to the closure of the crossings. What shall I do? Shall I kill myself?”.[xv] In the spring of 2018, due to this extreme lack of resources, tens of thousands of Gazans and Hamas officials violently protested the Israeli blockade and criticized the U.S.

Saudi Arabia’s naval blockade on Yemen shares many of the same characteristics as the Gaza Strip blockade. As of today, Yemeni civilian protests against the U.S. have not occurred. Nonetheless, as the Yemeni humanitarian crisis compounds, it is likely that civilians will protest and riot against Saudi Arabia and the United States, for supporting the Saudi naval blockade. The anti-American sentiment among Yemenis has been rampant since 2016, where quotes such as “USA-Kills-Yemeni-People” and “The American companies enter a country to steal its wealth and humiliate its people” are written on walls and around the abandoned Saudi embassy.[xvi] As noted before, the U.S. should expect this anti-American sentiment to worsen and evolve into violence led by civilians. The United States must not expect a different result in Yemen, from that which occurred in Iraq or the Gaza Strip. The Saudi naval blockade creates more anti-American Yemenis every day that it exists. Thus, the United States must press Saudi Arabia to lift its naval blockade on Yemen.













[i]   Ben Watson, “The War in Yemen and the Making of a Chaos State,” The Atlantic, February 3, 2018,

[ii]  UN News, “Half the population of Yemen at risk of famine: UN emergency relief chief,” United Nations, October 23, 2018,

[iii]  Security Council Resolution 687: Iraq-Kuwait, UN Department of Political Affairs, April 3, 1991, United Nations

[iv]   Gerhard Peters and John Woolley, “The President’s News Conference with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany,” The American Presidency Project, May 20, 1991,

[v] David Rieff, “Were Sanctions Right?” The New York Times, July 27, 2003,

[vi]  Richard Garfield, Morbidity and Mortality Among Iraqi Children from 1990 Through 1998,” March 1999,

[vii]  Ahmed Shebabaldin and William Laughlin Jr, “Economic Sanctions Against Iraq: Human and Economic Costs,” The International Journal of Human Rights, 3:4, 1999: 1-18, DOI: 10.1080/13642989908406841

[viii] Andrew Kovach, “The Fallacy of Nonviolent Economic Sanctions,” The Downtown Review, 2:1, 2015,

[ix]  Caryle Murphy, “Sanctions Mean Hardship Anger For Iraqi Civilians,” The Washington Post, October 16, 1994,

[x]  BBC News, “World: Middle East Iraqis blame sanctions for child deaths,” BBC Online Network, August 12, 1999,

[xi]  David M. Armitage, “Economic Sanctions on Iraq: Going Nowhere Fast,” U.S. Army War College, April 3, 1998,

[xii] Human Rights Watch, “Yemen Events of 2017,” Human Rights Watch, 2017,

[xiii] Tareq Baconi, “How Israel’s 10-Year Blockade Brought Gaza to the Brink of Collapse,” The Nation, July 7, 2017,

[xiv] Public Opinion Poll No 65 Press Release, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, September 19, 2017,

[xv]  Mohammed Arafat, “Under blockade and political rift, crimes soar in Gaza,” The New Arab, April 27, 2017,

[xvi]  Sudarsan Raghavan, “In Yemeni capital, signs of hatred toward Americans are everywhere,” The Washington Post, July 2, 2016,


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