This past September, I had the opportunity to represent Peace & Justice Centre in a very interesting meeting in the Scottish Parliament and to hear about the amazing efforts of a number of people from various countries in the Middle East who, with the support of Scottish politicians including Bill Kidd MSP and local and international NGOs, are working to promote a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. Sharon Dolev, founder and Director of Israeli Disarmament Movement talked about the urgent need to do so and the many steps and challenges of such a project. But her few remarks about Saudi Arabia caught my attention because I had recently written a report about the sales of arms made in Scotland and about how these arms are being used in humanitarian crimes in Yemen. Sharon noted that there wasn’t enough international concern about Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t part of the so-called “axis of evil”, and it has long been considered a special ally of the West in the Middle East. It was basically regarded as a friendly country with no nuclear weapons program, which makes it no danger at all. But, as Sharon reminded us, Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects and NATO intelligence reports confirm that the two countries have agreements that would allow the Kingdom to get such weapons delivered at any time. The Western allies have been arming Saudi Arabia for many years, without regard for the danger a heavily armed Kingdom presents in the region as our report on Yemen shows. I left the meeting hoping that what seemed to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing would end up being just a sheep in the end.
But only one month later, the news broke of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist who was murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, with the very likely involvement of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Sharon’s words came back to my mind: “No one worries about Saudi Arabia because it is considered ‘one of the good guys’”. Now the world had a reason to start worrying and maybe wonder about all the arms we have been giving to this prince. Until this happened the terrible crisis in Yemen was being successfully ignored by his Western allies, but they were now obliged to respond appropriately to the journalist’s murder, especially since the CIA reportedly concluded that the Saudi Crown Prince ordered the assassination of Khashoggi.
This turn of events should be the perfect opportunity to finally hear the many international appeals and stop the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia, a country that presents itself as progressive but has been acting in ways that disregard many international humanitarian rules, being the main party responsible for causing “the worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time”, according to the United Nations. And yet, responses have been far from appropriate. The UK is lightly “considering the next steps” after expressing concerns about the event to Saudi Arabia. And the US, although initially considering taking some action, is now worried about the maintenance of its “strategic relationship” with the Kingdom. Sadly, that means that the arms sales will continue as usual, the journalist will be forgotten, Yemen will remain ignored, and the wolf might soon realise it is free to wander around.