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:
Now, in a sign that the world is becoming increasingly frustrated with what is quite clearly a brutal, belligerent regime run by a family of fanatical religious oil barons, the European Parliament is calling for an outright embargo on arms shipments to the kingdom.
"The European Parliament called on the European Union to impose an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia on Thursday, saying Britain, France and other EU governments should no longer sell weapons to a country accused of targeting civilians in Yemen," Reuters reports. "Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since the coalition entered the conflict, almost half of them civilians, according to the United Nations, and the European Parliament said it was acting on humanitarian grounds."
So what was billed as a kind of quick, in and out air campaign designed to drive the Houthis from Aden has turned into a year-long crusade (that's probably a poor choice of words given the topic, but no one ever accused us of being PC) to eliminate all vestiges of Iranian influence from Yemen and if that means killing several thousand innocents in the process, well then so be it.
"This is about Yemen. The human rights violations have reached a level that means Europe is obliged to act and to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia," said Richard Howitt, a British center-left lawmaker who led efforts to hold the vote.
In the same breath, Howitt says he hopes the Saudis don't cut diplomatic ties over the vote. "The Saudis said to me they may cut off relations. I hope those are just words," he said.
Right, Howitt "hopes those are just words" because everyone would hate to upset the Saudis.
As Reuters goes on to note, the vote isn't legally binding, so it's exceptionally unlikely that anyone will forego billions in arms deals for the sake of a few thousand Yemenis whose country most Europeans couldn't find on an unlabeled map. But for any EU officials (or American officials for that matter) interested in visual evidence of why an embargo should be imposed, below, find a few visuals from the warzone.