UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has claimed Saudi Arabia is just defending itself by bombing famine-threatened Yemen, arguing the Gulf state is entitled to ask its allies for help.
Fallon had been asked if the Conservatives would consider suspending arms sales to the Saudis, given the serious concerns raised by international observers about the war in Yemen.
UK military personnel have been providing Saudi forces with airstrike and artillery training and Britain has sold billions of pounds’ worth of arms to the Gulf theocracy.
With Yemen’s main port blockaded there are fears the impoverished state could slide into famine unless the war is halted.
“Saudi Arabia is being attacked by Houthi rebels across its southern border with Yemen. It’s had its towns and villages shelled by the Houthis,” Fallon told the BBC.
“Saudi Arabia is fully entitled to defend itself and it’s fully entitled to call on its friends in so doing.”
Fallon said the UK gains from a close relationship with Riyadh, calling it “an enormously important trading partner, a commercial partner, but also a defense partner.”
“We share intelligence with Saudi Arabia about terrorism. We gain from that relationship. Every arms export application is very carefully looked at and judged by our criteria — some of the toughest in the world. But Saudi Arabia, equally, is entitled to defend itself.”
Fallon’s comment came a day after the head of UK arms giant BAE Systems told peace activists the firm’s staff are working in Saudi Arabia but would not say precisely what they were doing.
“We supply equipment and we maintain equipment, but we are not involved in any military action,” CEO Roger Carr told activists from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
However, he admitted that BAE workers are “looking after the aircraft to make sure they can perform to the specification.”
“We are not arbiters, we are suppliers of equipment under a contract,” Carr said.
The war, which was declared by Saudi Arabia in 2015, is estimated to have cost 17,000 lives up to January 2017. The UN estimates around 2.5 million people have been displaced.
Speaking to RT on Thursday, Catherine Shakdam of the Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies said that given the Saudi regime attacked first it was clear that the bombing is not an act of self-defense.
“You can’t turn around then, when the resistance movement, in fact, defends its own borders and own sovereignty … and then argue against self-defense,” Shakdam said.