The newly appointed Saudi Arabian Ambassador to London, Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Al-Saud, was absolutely right to say that ‘Drone’ attacks that caused extreme damage to two of the KSA’s most important Saudi Aramco oil installations earlier this week “had been an attack on the whole world and its economy”.
The unilateral decision taken in October last year by Germany to halt exports of defence equipment to Saudi Arabia has, because many of the large sections and components for aircraft such as Eurofighter Typhoon are manufactured in Germany, stopped other large European defence companies from selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia, a major ally of the West and one that remains crucial in respect not only of Gulf Region stability and security but also because of the vital intelligence information that it provides to the West. In the face of what has occurred and the likelihood of other attacks being attempted on Saudi Arabian oil installations from the air, Germany should in my view revoke the decision to stop selling defence equipment to Saudi Arabia with immediate effect.
While it is certainly true that mistakes have been made by the Saudi Arabian military over the four years that the Royal Saudi Air Force has been conducting air strikes on neighbouring Yemen Houthi targets, the Saudi Ambassadors to London’s remarks made in a BBC interview should act as a timely reminder that Saudi Arabia has when all is said and done been defending itself from regular missile attacks from Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than fifteen years.
In highlighting the need for every United Nations member state to be allowed to have the equipment it needs to defend itself, I would remind that Article 51 of the United Nations Charter states that “nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of collective or individual self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and stability.
Given that, despite its denial, a strengthening belief that Iran was behind the ‘Drone’ attacks on Saudi Arabia this week I restate a view that says any nation that have sought to damage Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend itself and its assets and that includes Germany should very quickly rethink past decisions in relation to stopping sales of properly licenced defence equipment to Saudi Arabia and go back to the status quo. If Iran is proved to be behind the actions taken against Saudi Arabia and not just behind the supply of the drone and weapons, Saudi Arabia will need all the help that it can get in the face of what is now believed to have been a blatant and unprovoked attack by Iran.
Speaking to the highly respected BBC Security Correspondent Mr. Frank Gardner in London Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Al-Saud talked of the Kingdom’s belief that the ‘Drone’ attack was quite definitely Iranian backed. But he neither wanted nor did he believe that we are about to have a war in the Gulf Region. Saudi Arabia was against intervention and conflict at this stage adding that “we are trying not to react too quickly’.
Defended Saudi Arabia’s role in the war in Yemen Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Al-Saud reminded that Saudi Arabia had not started the conflict with Yemen – these remarks being a clear reference to Houthi led missile attacks that Saudi Arabia has suffered at the hands of the Houthi’s for very many years. It is now four years since Saudi Arabia. He is right and having personally seen the result of Houthi attacks on the Kingdom many years ago for myself, I can confirm that such attacks started many years before Saudi Arabia responded. As to other reasons why Saudi Arabia finally acted, he said that the Kingdom entered the war to pacify the situation and ensure that a Democratically elected Government, one that had the backing of the United Nations, was allowed to govern. Accepting that the Houthi’s have not yet been dislodged, he talked of Saudi Arabian involvement as being in the interests of Yemen, of Saudi Arabia itself and of the Gulf Region as a whole.
Speaking of last year’s murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Al-Khashoggi by Saudi government agents in Istanbul, he went further than any other Saudi national I have heard calling this dreadful murder at Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul “a stain” on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a stain on our people, on our culture and on our government. He confirmed that the inquiry was still going and that if found guilty they will be punished.
In the USA whilst there has been a huge outcry on the back of the attack either having been planned by Iran and possibly executed by Iran as well, President Trump has been less sanguine that some of his peers suggesting only that he proposed to open dialogue with Saudi Arabia before committing to a response. Whilst confirming also that the US was ‘locked and loaded’ in order to potentially be able to respond on the back of Article 50 of the UN Charter, it appears that the US is not looking for conflict with Iran yet.
While the attack on Saudi Aramco installations has been universally condemned by European countries including Britain, the latter calling on Saudi Arabia to back collective action against Iran and those deemed responsible, most are still awaiting final proof of Iranian involvement. Notwithstanding this, the European Union has officially stated a belief that the ‘Drone’ strike poses a real threat to regional security.
With the oil price normalised since threats of a substantial rise in Middle East Region tensions broke on Monday it seems to me unlikely that we will see a rise in military action against Houthi resistance in Yemen or indeed, be taken in on Iran at this time. No doubt the US will be looking at further sanctions being taken against Iran.
The most important point though is that Saudi Arabia must be given the freedom to defend itself and its territory. Making very little defence equipment itself, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long relied on the West, particularly the US and the UK and other government partners for the defence capability that it requires. Not only will KSA now need to better defend its oil installations from the air but it will also need to ensure that it has the full range of defence capability that it needs in the wake of what is generally believed to be an attack on the Kingdom by Iran.
CHW (London – 18th September 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785