Britain and US launch airstrikes against Houthis

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Last night the US and the UK launched airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen whose continued attacks are disrupting trade in the Red Sea. The decision to sanction military action has been broadly welcomed in Westminster, but some have urged the PM to hold a retrospective vote on airstrikes amid fears that the UK risks being sucked into a tinder-box region. Will these airstrikes increase tensions in the Middle East? What impact will they have on the economy?   Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak is in Kyiv where he has announced a landmark new package of support for Ukraine totalling £2.5 billion.  Oscar Edmondson speaks to Katy Balls and Simon Mayall, former

Britain must follow Germany’s example to help end Yemen’s civil war

There is no civil war in the world today whose effects are so detrimental to civilians as the conflict engulfing Yemen. The war, pitting a Houthi rebellion in control of the Yemeni capital against the nominal Yemeni government in the south, just crossed its four-year anniversary last week. The United Nations is trying its best to end the fighting, with little to show for it other than a ceasefire in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida which may or (more likely) may not get peace talks off the ground. Unlike the United Kingdom, which has exported £5.7 billion of arms to the Saudi-led military coalition bombing Yemen to smithereens, Germany has largely

An eye on the prize

We don’t know whether ‘Aziz H’ listened to radio plays as he grew up in Yemen. In fact we don’t even know his real name, nor what he looks like. He was unable to get the visa that would have allowed him to come to London to receive his prize as one of the winners in this year’s BBC World Service/British Council International Playwriting Competition. His drama, A Broken Heart in a Warzone, is the first he’s written for radio but he seems to know instinctively how to create character through voice alone, atmosphere through simple cues, drama out of juxtaposing situations. ‘As someone who isn’t a writer,’ he told

High life | 10 May 2018

New York Talk about high life this is not. I smelled a rat long ago, but then the scent got weaker and weaker. Now it’s back — and stronger than ever. I’m talking here, of course, about the Saudis, the Qataris and the son-in-law who has also risen, Jared Kushner. Almost a year ago the Saudis issued an ultimatum to Qatar to meet its list of demands or face a blockade by Saudi-allied countries in the Gulf. All sorts of accusations were made and the Qataris were given 24 hours to comply. While the 300,000 Qatari citizens froze en masse, the couple of million non-Qatari migrant workers went about their

The prince of PR…

This week, Mohammad bin Salman, also known as MBS, is on his not-quite-state visit to Britain. A parade down the Mall and a state banquet could only be afforded to his father, old King Salman, who made MBS crown prince last June and has given him unprecedented latitude to liberalise Saudi society, lock up his enemies and light fireworks abroad. MBS arrived in London on Wednesday fresh from visiting one friend, Egypt’s General Sisi, and will go on to see another, Donald Trump, on 19 March. Theresa May’s aim will be to show that Britain can thrive outside the EU, but she should think twice before co-opting this new strongman

Coffee and Kalashnikovs

‘This guy’s crazy,’ says a taxi driver, listening to a BBC interview with a man who has decided to become the first exporter of coffee from Mokha, Yemen, in 80 years. The man being interviewed, we have learned, has risked his life quite a few times over, in the most hair-raising ways imaginable it would seem, to achieve his dream of putting Yemeni coffee back on the map. We meet this taxi driver towards the end of the book, and although he does not know that the man being interviewed is actually sitting in the back of his cab, by this stage we have come to think that, yes, the

Playing it safe | 5 October 2017

BBC1’s latest Sunday-night drama The Last Post, about a British military base in Aden in 1965, feels like a programme on a mission: that mission being to avoid getting shouted at by either the Guardian or the Daily Mail. To this (possibly doomed) end, it goes about its business very gingerly, with an almost pathological devotion to balance, and a safety-first reliance on the trusty methods of the well-made play, where each scene makes a single discrete point and the characters are as carefully differentiated as the members of a boy band. The first episode opened with the base’s new captain landing at Aden airport with his wife. ‘It must

High life | 7 September 2017

After the heat in Greece, the Alps are cool and green and very comfortable. My sensei Richard Amos is over here and we squeezed two weeks of intensive karate training into three days. Nothing makes me feel better than the sense of total exhaustion after a hard day’s fighting. We do kihon, kata, and then we let fly in kumite. Except that recently I’ve caught him diving, as they call it in the ugly game. Fight like a man, I say, through gritted teeth. He picks up the tempo but my suspicions remain. The sensei (teacher) is taking it easy on the sempai (senior). I hate it but it’s the

High life | 29 June 2017

A major Greek ship owner, whose political knowledge matches his wealth and business acumen, explained to me what the Qatar brouhaha is all about. My friend Peter had the foresight to invest in liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, among the most expensive of ships to build but big-time money-makers. Why is it that it takes a major ship owner to tell us what’s really going on? Forget the bull put out by American hacks, whose minds no longer seem to function — at least since Trump’s triumph last November. Here goes: we sat on my terrace in Gstaad under the stars, watched the mountains turn from grey to dark blue,

War-war, not jaw-jaw

It’s often said that the Trump administration is ‘isolationist’. This is not true. In fact, we are now witnessing a dramatic escalation in the militarisation of US foreign policy in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan. This has not been announced but it is happening, and much of it without consultation with Nato or other key allies, or any debate in Congress or the media. A few weeks ago, US aircraft carried out over 30 air strikes against Islamic militants in Yemen — almost the same as the number carried out there all last year. In Iraq and Syria there have been many reports of civilian casualties in US raids.

Trump’s foreign policy seems designed to terrify everyone – including his own government

‘Plan, prepare, and train for the outbreak of chaos,’ says al Qaeda’s handbook, The Management of Savagery, a blueprint for building the Caliphate through what might be called creative destruction. ‘At the outbreak of chaos, the onset of jihad: ride the wave…exploit the situation.’ Did Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s new chief strategist, read The Management of Savagery? He has been accused of implementing a ‘chaos theory of government’. Create chaos. Destroy the old order. Build paradise. The Trump administration has seemed busily engaged in phase one during its first two, hair-raising weeks in office. For the critics, the military raid against al Qaeda in Yemen was the inevitable outcome —

Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia

In what sense does anyone actually disagree with what Boris Johnson said about Saudi Arabia and Iran? Does anyone actually think that his observation that they are both engaged in ‘puppeteering’ in Syria and Yemen is not only true, but understates the seriousness of the problem? Does anyone believe the Foreign Office when it says that Mr Johnson’s remarks do not reflect the position of the Government? Now I know the argument, viz, that Saudi Arabia is an important and very sensitive ally and the way to deal with its sensitivities is to make criticism in private, which is what, we are invited to believe, Theresa May did when she

Yemen Notebook

Most nights Saudi bombers fly low over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa dealing out random destruction. High up in the Yemeni mountains, Sanaa claims to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. Its old city, a Unesco world heritage site, is at least as unique, ancient and priceless as any western city. Many of its buildings have been destroyed or damaged by Saudi bombs. Imagine the outcry in the West if Venice or Florence were being targeted in this way. However, nobody seems to care one way or another about Yemen. This is because the country is under attack from Britain’s oldest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia. So

Portrait of the week | 25 February 2016

Home David Cameron, having continued talks through the night in Brussels, announced that he had achieved a ‘special status’ for Britain in the European Union and would call a referendum on it for 23 June. One concession he had wrung was that, for seven years, Britain could decide to limit in-work benefits for EU migrants during their first four years in Britain. ‘I do not love Brussels; I love Britain,’ he said. The cabinet met next morning, and six members left by a back door to promote their support for the campaign to leave. The biggest beast among them was Michael Gove, and the others were Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith,

Portrait of the week | 24 September 2015

Home In a speech at the Shanghai stock exchange, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a feasibility study into the trading of Chinese and British shares in both countries. At least half of all British banknotes in circulation are held overseas or used in the black market, a Bank of England report suggested. The political impasse in Northern Ireland continued. Sir David Willcocks, the director of choirs, died, aged 95. Brian Sewell, the art critic, died aged 84. Jackie Collins, the author of titillating blockbusters, died aged 77. An outbreak of highly drug-resistant gonorrhoea was detected in the north of England, from Oldham to Scunthorpe. Lord Ashcroft, who

Watch: Tory MP accuses BBC of bias over ‘amateurish’ Newsnight Yemen special

With charter renewal looming, the BBC is under increasing scrutiny from the government to justify its licence fee. So it’s fair to say Thursday night’s Newsnight Yemen special did little to endear the corporation to some members of the Tory camp. The programme — led by the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse — looked into Yemen’s ‘forgotten war’; highlighting the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign over Yemen to drive Houthi rebels from the city. It reported how the airstrikes — which have hit some civilian targets — are supported by Britain as the country sells arms to Saudi Arabia. Alas, this focus has not gone down well with Daniel Kawczynski, the Tory MP who is a member

Portrait of the week | 6 August 2015

Home Tom Hayes, aged 35, a former City trader who rigged the Libor rates daily for nearly four years while working in Tokyo for UBS, then Citigroup, from 2006 until 2010, was jailed by Southwark Crown Court for 14 years for conspiracy to defraud. The government sold a 5.4 per cent stake in Royal Bank of Scotland, for 330p a share, against the 500p or so that it paid six or seven years ago to save the banking group; the government now owns 73 per cent of RBS. Monitor, the regulator for health services in England, sent out letters ‘challenging the plans of the 46 foundation trusts with the biggest

Why Yemen is quickly becoming the new Syria

Though it hasn’t been hitting the headlines recently, the situation in Yemen has been rapidly deteriorating and looks set to grow worse in the coming months. The country now seems to have fallen into all-out civil war, with a level of complexity which echoes the catastrophic war occurring 1,500 miles north in Syria. The war in Yemen is part of the larger Sunni-Shia conflict currently shaking the Middle East. There are the Houthis, a Shia Islamist group, which back in February forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi out of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Hadi is supported by Sunni militia in the south of the country, as well as parts of the security forces who

Al-Qaeda could end up the big winners in Syria

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Ahmed Rashid and Douglas Murray discuss how the West is working with al-Qa’eda” startat=38] Listen [/audioplayer]After plunging Syria into five years of a bloody civil war that has killed 300,000 and displaced 10 million, Bashar al-Assad is preparing for the endgame. He has been digging a bunker for himself, creating an enclave in the mountains around the coastal city of Latakia where his community, the Alawites, are in a majority. The Iranians are helping him set up this new retreat, but his hope of hanging on to Syria is dying. The question being asked in the region is not whether he’ll survive, but who will run Damascus once

High life | 16 July 2015

I have signed an affidavit for a hearing in the High Court stating that Janan Harb was, to my knowledge, married to Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who later became king of that ghastly country until he ate himself to death. His son Abdul Aziz, a fat playboy who drifts around the world with an entourage of 150 bootlickers, is challenging Janan’s claims, which, in the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies, ‘he would, wouldn’t he?’ Saudi camel-drivers-turned-self-proclaimed royals do not like to pay for the mess they leave behind their ample posteriors, and they definitely do not like to pay for their women. (I’ve often wondered if they really think women