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Canada has gone from complicity through silence to active participation in genocide

‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ is a major escalation that could push the Middle East into regional war. Why is Canada involved?

Canadian PoliticsMiddle EastWar ZonesUSA Politics

Guided-missile destroyers in the Gulf of Aden. Photo courtesy the United States Department of Defense.

On March 20, 2003, US President George W. Bush addressed the world: “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

Canada was not party to that so-called “coalition of the willing.” Indeed, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien publicly stated that we would not participate formally in the invasion (although a WikiLeaks cable released in early 2011 revealed that Canada later provided material support behind the scenes).

Fast forward two decades. On January 11, the United States and the United Kingdom led a new coalition in a bombing campaign against Yemen, expanding the ongoing conflict in occupied Palestine far beyond Gaza—where Israeli forces have been concentrating their deadly bombardment and ground invasion for more than 100 days. As the New York Times put it, the US-led taskforce, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, means “there is no longer a question of whether the Israel-Hamas war will escalate into a wider conflict. The question is whether it can be contained.”

This time, with virtually no public debate, little media coverage, and without parliamentary scrutiny, Canada publicly joined the operation, which was launched in response to the ongoing Houthi blockade of marine traffic through the Red Sea, an important global shipping route. The blockade has specifically targeted ships and shipping companies that do business with Israel and has acted as a material leverage point aimed at forcing the Israeli government to stop its attempted genocide in the Gaza Strip.

Houthi spokespeople have emphasized repeatedly that ships with no connection to Israel may pass through safely. Their actions to date seem to support these claims, and remarkably, their attacks on ships have resulted in zero casualties. In spite of this, Canada joined the US coalition when it formed, and continues to support it, both materially and rhetorically.

Propserity Guardian was initially focused on “address[ing] security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” through which one-sixth of global economic trade passes, but as of January 11, it has grown to include bombing alleged Houthi targets throughout Yemen.

This is a dangerous escalation that, as the Times pointed out, means there is now a “regional war” in the Middle East. It also represents a new phase of the US’s ongoing war against Yemen, one it has been pursuing through Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for the last decade. The conflict has killed close to half a million people and thrown Yemen into the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world” (before Gaza earned that ignominious title).

Canada’s involvement in this campaign is both reckless and unjustifiable. On the one hand, this now regional war has no good endings, and it carries with it a spectrum of horrific ones. On the more modest end, it could mark the beginning of another “forever war” that devastates multiple countries in West Asia while entrenching the brutal dictatorships of America’s allies in the region.

On the more extreme end, it may be a sign that we are indeed already in a Third World War. After all, the US is engaged in multiple proxy wars around the world. One of these is against a major nuclear power (Russia). The other is in support of an unpredictable, expansionist nuclear-armed state engaged in genocidal acts against the Palestinians (Israel), whose prime minister recently declared, “No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else.” Adding direct military engagement to the mix is decidedly not a step towards de-escalation. Why Canada would want any part of this, even simply from a pragmatic perspective, boggles the mind. We faced no real consequences from our refusal to (at least publicly) participate in the Iraq coalition. We could just as well stay out of Operation Prosperity Guardian.

Which raises the other facet: the Iraq War was a criminal enterprise based on false pretences. The international community was, for all intents and purposes, duped into coming along. But even with the limited information available at the time, Canada had the good sense—one might even call it bravery—to refuse to endorse the war, thanks in large part to widespread anti-war organizing. History has proven unequivocally that this was the right decision. The US deliberately misrepresented their casus belli, toppled a functioning government, and killed hundreds of thousands of people (as many as a million by some estimates). Iraq has never recovered, in no small part because of the corruption of America’s post-war “nation-building” project.

The moral case today is far more obvious: for better or for worse, the Houthis and Hezbollah are among the only political entities taking any material action to disrupt the atrocities that Israel is committing. It is true that the Houthi blockade may have knock-on effects on global shipping and, eventually, on price levels around the world, but there is no reason not to take them at their word: when the genocide stops, the blockade stops.

The international community has two paths towards normalizing shipping through the Red Sea: intervene to stop an ongoing genocide, or intervene by punishing a country already devastated by decades of Western interventionism and war in the hopes that it will force their military to disengage. That choice seems like an obvious one, especially given that even militarist think tanks like the RAND Corporation think the latter option won’t work. But apparently it’s not obvious for Canada’s leaders, who, following the bombing on January 11, declared that the “strikes… demonstrate the international community’s commitment to defending freedom of navigation and international commerce.”

Israel is currently facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice. While it is possible that the US, Israel, and their allies will successfully pressure the court into a watered down ruling, it is hard—given what we have all seen livestreamed over the last 100 days, and given the thorough documentation of genocide and genocidal intent in South Africa’s application to the court—to imagine a ruling that does not recognize the horror of what Israel is currently doing.

With our participation in Operation Prosperity Guardian, Canada has gone from complicity through silence to active participation in genocide. We’ve also bogged ourselves down in what is likely to be a rapidly developing quagmire. For our own sake, for the sake of the people of Palestine and Yemen, and for the sake of everyone who hopes for a better future, we must extricate ourselves from this escalating war and commit our foreign policy efforts to peace and demilitarization.

Nick Gottlieb is a climate writer based in northern BC and the author of the newsletter Sacred Headwaters. His work focuses on understanding the power dynamics driving today’s interrelated crises and exploring how they can be overcome. Follow him on Twitter @ngottliebphoto.

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