There are several items in the news over the last day or two that point to a difficult time for our Government and one of their oldest friends. The conflict in Syria which the David Cameron and Michael Fallon have so enthusiastically taken us toward is now beginning to slip into a dispute that the whole of the Conservative front bench are going to be much more squiffy about than the death of innocent Syrians. The links between the ISIL fighters in Syria and ISIL fighters in Yemen cannot be overlooked as one of our retired Generals pointed out at the end of last week. Tim Cross is a man I have met and he is very honest and not likely to change his argument just because it does not suit the Government. Writing in Thursdays Telegraph he states “rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran must exchange their proxy wars, of which Yemen is but one, for diplomatic engagement. But there are ways we – the West – can and should help. And equally importantly, there are ways in which we can avoid making things worse.” “Yemen has not been widely covered in Western media, yet Isil and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are taking advantage of the chaos there to strengthen their presence – just as they have done in Syria and Iraq, with such devastating consequences.” Tim goes on to explain how many deaths and injuries have been caused by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and how they are killing people we are supporting with foreign aid “The UK is a lead donor in Yemen and has given £75 million in new aid since September 2014, but at the same time, we are Saudi Arabia’s largest arms supplier, having granted 37 export licenses for military goods since March, including going out of our way to divert to 500 lb ‘Paveway’ IV guided bombs originally earmarked for the RAF; guided bombs carried on UK-provided planes.” These comments and the rest of the article, coming as they do a day after the vote on Syria should be causing real concern to our Government and Parliament as a whole. Concerns about the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia have also emerged from our German Allies. They don’t have the same special relationship with Saudi Arabia as we do and so will not stay quiet just to satisfy an old boys club. The German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel spoke on Sunday to urge the Saudi’s to end their financial support of radical religious groups in Germany. The call comes amid growing concern about the funding of extremist mosques. This intervention follows a report released by the German foreign intelligence agency (BND) on Wednesday, which suggested that Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy was becoming more “impulsive.”
The idea that Saudi Arabia is part of the problem, and not helping with the solution in the conflict in Syria and her neighbours is not news for many of us. However the impact of comments from people like Tim, speaking in public about these concerns and the German Government means that apologists for Saudi such as Anna Soubry, Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon and David Cameron cannot continue to pretend that all is well in the kingdom.