Arms Flow Despite Yemen Deaths

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo avoided a diplomatic clash with Saudi Arabia by certifying to Congress that the kingdom is taking “demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure” from its airstrikes in Yemen. In doing so, Pompeo overruled State Department specialists after he was warned that alienating Saudi leaders by failing to make the certification could jeopardize $2 billion in weapons sales, according to a Sept. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal.

The German government confirmed on Sept. 21 that it is proceeding with delivery to the Saudis of counterfire radar systems for artillery. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government deal early this year called for halting weapons sales to any side fighting in Yemen's civil war, although it reportedly excluded already approved exports. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Spain’s new center-left government reversed itself shortly after saying in early September that it had canceled the planned delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs purchased by Saudi Arabia in a 2015 deal under the former conservative government. Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Sept. 13 the government will honor the 2015 contract and noted that such so-called precision munitions can reduce dangers to civilians. Halting of the deal had raised concerns in Spain over the risk to a more lucrative contract, signed in July, for state-owned shipbuilder Navantia to supply warships to the Saudis, according to Reuters.

In a late August report, a panel of UN investigators reported that the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had taken actions that may amount to war crimes, including conducting airstrikes that have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, torturing detainees, raping civilians, and using child soldiers as young as eight. The report also cited Houthi rebels as committing possible war crimes, including shelling civilians and blocking delivery of humanitarian aid.—TERRY ATLAS