The issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia by Western countries has always been a contentious topic in some circles.
At the conceptual level, something seems inherently wrong with selling advanced weapons to a government that promotes an ultra puritanical form of Islam that sanctions gruesome executions and treats women as second class citizens. Throw in the fact that Riyadh actively seeks to export this very same poisonous ideology and there’s a moral case to be made for not signing arms deals with what amounts to a terror state where the only claim to legitimacy is oil wealth.
But beyond the fact that Wahhabism isn’t exactly something civilized society should be supporting with billions in weapons shipments, the Saudis have also demonstrated a propensity to use those weapons in ways that are not exactly, “kosher” (to stick with the religious theme).
For instance, Saudi Arabia trains and arms Sunni extremists that exist not only as agents of sectarian strife but also as threats to the rest of the world. We’re seeing that in Syria as we speak.
Perhaps the most concrete example however, of why the West should not arm the Saudis is what’s taking place in Yemen, where Riyadh certainly seems to be deliberately targeting civilians in what we described last year as a kind of “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” strategy. Indeed, a recent report from a UN panel found that the Saudis conducted 119 airstrikes against civilian targets in Yemen.
Specifically, over the course of 119 discrete sorties, Saudi Arabi bombed refugee camps, weddings, civilian cars, buses, people’s homes, hospitals, schools, mosques, residential neighborhoods, an Oxfam warehouse, treated “entire cities as military targets,” and chased after fleeing civilians with attack helicopters.
As we put it late last month: that’s a laughably bad record and almost certainly constitutes war crimes.
Some UK lawmakers – including Jeremy Corbyn – are calling for an “immediate inquiry” into the report and a suspension of arms sales to the Saudis. As a reminder, here’s a look at UK arms sales to Riyadh:
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