Saudi Arabia: Malevolent and dangerous

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Human rights campaigners protest against arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in human rights abuses in Yemen

With US President Trump’s agreement to sell Saudi Arabia $110bn worth of weapons, the US ruling class is showing that it intends to forge a coalition of allies in the Middle East, including Israel, in an attempt to preserve US domination over the region. As US imperialism’s relative economic and ideological strength weakens, so it resorts to its unrivalled military superiority to compensate and maintain its global hegemonic position. The US is determined to prevent the unity of Iran with Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon and is supported in this by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Egypt. The US fuels sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims to help it keep control of the Middle East’s strategic fuel resources; control vital to limit potential rivals China, Russia, India and Europe. Trevor Rayne reports.

British capitalists will seek to profit from the tensions created and sell the protagonists weapons with which to kill each other. Their government will not confront one of the major sources of support and inspiration for terrorism because Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil, selling over one in every ten barrels traded. Saudi and Gulf capital are pivotal to the functioning of the City of London and Wall Street, which bankroll arms sales. Successive British governments, Labour and Conservative, have deferred to the power of oil money.

President Trump’s first foreign visit began with his arrival in Saudi Arabia on 19 May 2017, accompanied by US oil company executives, Wall Street Stock Exchange bosses and the heads of JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup banks. He announced ‘the [Saudi] purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment’ worth $110bn, with the option to buy $350bn of weapons over the coming decade. Saudi’s monarch also agreed to invest $40bn in US infrastructure projects. The scale of the arms deal is staggering. Between 2011 and 2015 Saudi Arabia was the world’s biggest arms importer. The Saudi government supported NATO’s attack on Libya in 2011 with money and weapons, and it has funded and armed jihadi groups fighting the Syrian government. Since 2015 Saudi Arabia has led a coalition waging war on Yemen, killing over 16,000 people and pushing seven million towards starvation. This war is actively backed by the US and British governments. In January 2015, the German intelligence agency BND warned that Saudi Arabia had adopted ‘an impulsive policy of intervention abroad’ and blamed this on the defence minister, deputy crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. This reckless belligerence is what the US and Britain support.  

Thus far, Trump has been unable to scrap the nuclear deal signed by Iran with the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany in July 2015. However, Trump called it the ‘worst deal ever’, and accuses Iran of being the main source of terrorism in the Middle East. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states oppose any US deal with Iran because they fear it reduces their significance as imperialism’s regional allies, with the consequent cut in supplies of funds and weapons that this would entail. President Trump praised Saudi Arabia and its allies for having ‘taken strong action against Houthi militants in Yemen’. The Houthi are Shia and hence accused of being tools of Iran. Visiting Israel, Trump proposed to the Israeli government that it join the US-led alliance, dubbed an Arab NATO: ‘There is a growing realisation among your Arab neighbours that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran.’ After the 9/11 attack in 2001, the then US President Bush blamed Iraq and not Saudi Arabia for being the enemy, even though 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Today, Iran is being set up for attack if it does not submit.

The US President has given local US commanders greater freedom to conduct raids and drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, without requiring presidential permission. On 7 April, using the pretext of supposed Syrian government use of chemical weapons, the US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. On 13 April the US dropped the so called ‘Mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan. These acts coincided with mounting US threats against North Korea. The US is using force and the threat of force to try and dictate its will. In Syria, the US intends to stop Syrian government forces from controlling the borders between Syria and Iraq and Syria and Jordan, to stop Iran gaining influence stretching to the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon.  

Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman threatened Iran, saying on television that ‘We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran’, and he accused Iran of seeking ‘to control the Islamic world’. The US and Saudi Arabia are reported to be encouraging anti-government revolt among Iran’s minorities, including the Baloch people in the country’s south east. The Iranian defence minister responded to threats of attack, saying that nothing would be ‘left in Saudi Arabia except Mecca and Medina’, the holy cities. In 2016 Saudi Arabia executed a leading Shia cleric and in response the Saudi embassy in Tehran was ransacked and the two countries broke off trade and diplomatic ties. If Iran is attacked it has threatened to retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil supply flows; this would trigger a world economic crisis.

On 7 June 2017, Iran’s parliament building and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic in 1979, were attacked by Islamic State, killing at least 12 people. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards accused Saudi Arabia of involvement in the attack and linked it to President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi foreign minister denied his country’s involvement. Trump sent a message of condolence, but added ‘states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote’. Iran’s foreign minister condemned the statement as ‘repugnant’.

Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency was greeted enthusiastically in Saudi Arabia and Israel; in 2016 President Obama halted $400m of arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of concerns at civilian casualties in the war on Yemen. Last year, Saudi Arabia threatened to withdraw $750bn from the US if individuals and organisations were given the right to sue sponsors of terrorism in US courts under the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, passed in September 2016, in defiance of a US presidential veto. Today, Wall Street and the City of London are competing to stage the initial public offering of shares in the state oil company Saudi Aramco, a company said to be worth between $1.25 trillion and $7 trillion, making it the world’s most valuable company and potentially the world’s biggest share flotation. Families of the 9/11 victims will have to wait for any chance of justice against Saudi Arabia.

Britain’s complicity

Two days before the 3 June attack on people at London Bridge and Borough Market, it was disclosed that a report by a British government inquiry into the role of Saudi money in funding terrorism is unlikely to be published. A Home Office spokesperson described the report’s contents as ‘very sensitive’. The inquiry was commissioned by the Cameron-led government in 2015 in return for LibDem support for British airstrikes on Syria.

In 1985 Britain and Saudi Arabia concluded the Al Yamamah arms contract worth $43bn, the biggest contract ever awarded to a British firm, BAE Systems. The deal included 132 Tornado and Hawk aircraft, with commissions allegedly paid to British middlemen and the Saudi royal family. The National Audit Office launched an investigation into the deal but its report was suppressed. The Labour government halted a Special Fraud Office investigation at the end of 2006, citing ‘security grounds’ and co-operation with Saudi Arabia in the war against terrorism. Prime Minister Blair personally intervened, asking his Attorney-General to drop the corruption investigation. Blair had been visited by the head of Saudi Arabia’s national security, Prince Bandar, who warned of terrorist attacks in Britain if the investigation was not halted (The Guardian 15 February 2008).

In 2016, Britain became the second biggest arms dealer in the world, after the US. There are over 9,000 British arms companies. Approximately 60% of British arms exports go to the Middle East. Between 2010 and 2014 Britain was the biggest arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, with export licences issued worth nearly £4bn. According to the House of Lords, ‘In the first year of the Yemen campaign (March 2015 – March 2016), the UK granted export licences of around £3.3bn to Saudi Arabia.’ Campaign Against Arms Trade states that about 240 British Ministry of Defence civil servants and military personnel work on Saudi defence-related contracts, paid for by the Saudi government. Over 6,000 British companies export to Saudi Arabia and Britain is the second largest cumulative investor in the country after the US. On 5 April 2017 Prime Minister Theresa May visited King Salman of Saudi Arabia and echoed her predecessor Blair, saying that security relationships between the two countries had saved many lives in Britain. May claimed arms sales to Saudi Arabia ‘keep people on the streets of Britain safe’.

The Saudi Arabian government has gifted luxury food hampers to Conservative government ministers, including to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and a watch worth £1,950 to Philip Hammond. Tory advisers are given lucrative consultancy work with the Saudi government. This is corrupt and obscene. Saudi Arabia is a malevolent force and one that US and British imperialism embrace at the expense of people in the Middle East and in Britain.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017