US Bombs Drop and Risk of Wider War Rises

Middle East

Sometimes it is even more clear than usual, the priorities of US capitalism: near 24,000 civilian lives lost is acceptable, a 20% drop in Red Sea traffic is not. Assuring Israel’s survival as a US base in the Middle East is essential, minimizing the risk of wider war in the region or the entire world is not. As well as paying for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, the US has now twice bombed military facilities in Yemen to try and safeguard ships under Yemeni attack.

The primary contest in the world today is between the US and China, likely allied with Russia. So far, this struggle over markets, resources, productivity, political influence and military control has been manifest through proxy wars, as in Sudan, Yemen, or Ukraine. But conflict in the Middle East, seat of much of the world’s fossil fuel resources and vast profits, is of such import that direct warfare may ensue. Whether desired or not by either party, any number of incidents may pull the trigger and once begun, major inter-imperialist war can even lead to the use of nuclear weapons and the annihilation of millions.

China is rapidly increasing its military capabilities. It now has the world’s largest navy with over 370 military vessels. The air force is rapidly expanding and today has a nuclear bomber, over 500 nuclear warheads and air-to-air missiles with long range capabilities.1 Twice a year, soldiers are conscripted into the armed forces of over two million soldiers.

The broader region now being brought into play, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen – the whole Horn of Africa – has been embroiled in conflict for decades, seeking control of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, the ports along the shores, and the narrow straits that admit entry. About 12% of all international trade passes through the Red Sea on its way to and from the Suez Canal,including 12% of seaborne oil, 8% of liquefied gas and 40% of all Asia-Europe trade.2 So far, recent Houthi attacks on shipping have caused $200 billions of trade to be diverted to longer routes around the horn of Africa, causing great expense and supply shortages.3

The Role of Israel

Western imperialism, first the British and then primarily the US, supported the creation of the state of Israel after World War I, when oil became the fuel of war and industry. Especially since Iran was turned from US friend to foe in 1979 as the Shah fell, nuclear-armed Israel has assumed paramount importance as regional protector of US interests. Never mind Israel has murdered, expelled or oppressed the Palestinians who had lived there for centuries; never object that Israel has created a system built on racism and apartheid which cannot but remind us of American slavery or Nazism.

As has always been true of colonialist plans, Israeli Zionism has maintained control over its colonized people not only with a military occupation, but by appointing an elite group to receive privileges and provide governance. In the West Bank, it is the Palestinian Authority and in Gaza, Hamas, which Israel helped create in 1987 and has supported with millions of dollars for the last five years.4 Meanwhile, since its inception, Israel has hoped for the day when all the Palestinians could be eliminated by death or expelled. Hamas’s unexpected attack on October 7, that killed at least a good portion of the 1139 Israelis (766 civilians) who lost their lives, gave Israel it’s excuse for genocide in Gaza.5

The Wider Middle East

From 2009-2022, Saudi Arabia was involved in a war with Yemen, aided by the US from 2015-2021, The goal for the Saudis and Americans was to maintain the ability to ship oil through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait at the end of the Red Sea, to have access to large undeveloped oil deposits in Yemen and to build pipelines to the port of Aden. The conflict caused Yemen to be the site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, until it was outdone by Gaza. In April, 2022, the UN brokered a peace deal which has pretty much held.

The Houthis, despite being the group opposed by Saudi Arabia, has become the most powerful faction in Yemen, and now controls most of the large population centers of the west and north. By taking action against commercial vessels in vital shipping lanes, they wish to gain support as backers of the oppressed of Gaza, strengthen their bargaining position with Saudi Arabia and show themselves to be a strong ally of Iran. Internally, the Houthis have organized massive rallies in their own support and recruited many new members. They have actually caused only minor damage to most of the ships they have intercepted in their 25 attacks and not killed anyone on board.6

In response to these attacks on shipping, the US and the UK, with support from Australia, Canada, Bahrain and the Netherlands, attacked 60 targets in Yemen in 16 locations on January 11, 2024. The next day, the US made further bombing runs. In November, 2023, the US had also bombed a weapons storage depot in Syria used by Iran, in retaliation for attacks linked to Iran on US troops in Iraq and Syria The British think tank, Chatham House, posits possible future scenarios: an attack on the strategic al-Hudayadah Yemeni port on the Red Sea or targeted strikes on inland missile launching sites, command headquarters and naval installations. These options could lead the Houthis to try and block all navigation in the strait or cause a recurrence of hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.7

Most important is to consider the role of Iran and China and the possible expansion to even wider war. According to Shao Zheng, Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Yemen, China is anxious to avoid an expanding conflict right now so as to continue its alliance building between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a vital part of the Global Security Initiave (GSI), China’s plan to become the chief guarantor of Middle Eastern as well as African, Latin American and Pacific security instead of the US. China also has large projects in Yemen, such as the Hodeidah-Sanaa road, and conducts about $3 billion in trade between the two countries (compared to $400 billion with all Arab countries). Since no other Arab countries besides Bahrain have joined the anti-Houthi coalition, China sees no benefit in participating today.8 Meanwhile Israel, with US backing, was hoping to cement a Saudi-Israeli treaty, now impossible because of the war in Gaza.

The Houthis are also part of Iran’s regional power network, along with Hezbollah and Hamas. Yemeni analyst al-Hamdani, however, says Yemen could benefit more by “relying on [Saudi Arabia’s] financial resources rather than depending on Iran for weapons”.6 Iran has been supporting the Houthis for a decade with about $100 million annually for weapons, training and technology, but they have kept some distance between them. Iran has a policy of supporting regional forces that they do not directly control in order to be able to maintain deniability.

The Houthis have few valuable assets that the US can threaten to destroy and thus convince them to discontinue attacks. Saudi Arabia, along with France and Italy, have declined to cooperate with the US.2

How Bad Can It Get?

None of these reasons that the US, China, Iran or other nations wish to avoid a wider war at this time guarantee that the conflict will not expand. There is always the possibility of an unintended consequence of a military action; miscalculation of the response of a foe to a planned action; or the unbearable pressure of rising prices and shortages to take dramatic action. The involvement of the US and Europe in several conflicts at once may tempt China to try and seize Taiwan. In any case, whether it is this month, this year, this decade or those to come, war between the US and China is inevitable, as war between competing major imperialists has been for over a century.

For us, the workers and soldiers of the world, the question is what can we do about it? Certainly just pointing out injustice, as is now happening at the powerless World Court of Justice, is not enough. Our only real power is in building mass struggles and refusing to fight in such conflicts, a dynamic chiefly responsible for forcing the US to end the war in Vietnam. We must be ready to resist the inevitable reintroduction of a draft in the US and hope that legions of young Chinese will also hesitate to fight. In many parts of the world, such as Israel, extreme racism and nationalism have won the population to commit and support horrendous war crimes. In many cases, nationalism has won rebellious workers to follow misleaders who really only wish to replace foreign capitalists, as in South Africa or El Salvador, to name a couple.

Thus we must organize mass actions, like the march on Washington today, strikes at our jobs and schools, and broad education campaigns. We must highlight the unstoppable need of capitalism to sacrifice workers in the name of profit and to win workers away from racism and nationalism. Only then can we fight the battle we need to fight, an international workers’ struggle to overturn capitalism and imperialism.

Ellen Isaacs is an MD, an anti-racist and anti-capitalist activist, and co-editor of She can be reached at [email protected]









Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News