Ben Freeman / AntiWar.com & Reuters – 2018-03-12 00:51:16
The Lobbying War for War in Yemen
Ben Freeman / AntiWar.com
(March 10, 2018) — “Coalition airstrikes are based on intelligence and extensive monitoring and surveillance, to ensure all targets are military installations . . . Extensive precautions are taken to avoid civilian areas, especially where women and children are present,” a spokesman for the Saudi coalition in Yemen, announced on December 20.
Six days later, a Saudi coalition air strike ripped through a crowded market in Yemen, killing at least 54 civilians, including eight children. That same day another Saudi coalition air strike killed 14 civilians on a farm in Yemen. All were members of the same family. According to the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, these were in addition to 84 civilians killed in just the previous 10 days in Yemen, and “These incidents prove the complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led Coalition, continue to show in this absurd war.”
A spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition responded, not by consoling the victims’ families, but by questioning the “credibility” of the United Nations, and “the competence of its employees working in Yemen.”
While a seemingly unexpected response, this denial wasn’t a new tactic by the Saudi government. Since the war in Yemen began, and despite the United Nations confirming that more than 10,000 civilian lives have been lost in the conflict, the Saudi government and their lobbyists in D.C. have been working to keep Yemen off most policymakers’ radar and keep US military support and weapons flowing into Saudi Arabia in record numbers.
In 2017 alone, Saudi Arabia spent more than $16 million on 28 lobbying and public relations firms registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). These efforts appear to have borne fruit quickly as President Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King just days after his inauguration.
During the call, “the Kingdom pledged to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen,” according to a Podesta Group press release sent to more than 50 prominent think tank experts.
A year later, there are no “safe zones” in Yemen, only more promises by the Saudi’s to create them.
On February 13, 2017, two weeks after Trump spoke with King Salman, Qorvis MSL Group distributed a press release on behalf of Saudi Arabia declaring that “Safeguarding civilians remains foremost priority” for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
Two days later a Saudi coalition strike reportedly killed nine women and one child who had gathered to mourn the death of a local woman.
On May 20, 2017, Trump landed in Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad as President, announcing a $110 billion arms sale to the Kingdom. Four days prior, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, filed a “fact sheet” it’s lobbyists had circulated on reducing civilian casualties, which claimed “Saudi Arabia has taken several steps to create a more thorough vetting process for target selection and validation for the Saudi-led Coalition’s operations in Yemen.”
Five days later a Saudi coalition strike reportedly killed 24 civilians at a Yemen market.
On August 22, 2017, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia met with Jared Kushner and other members of the Trump administration and “committed to strengthen the relationship and close cooperation” between the two countries, according to a press release distributed by Qorvis MSLGroup on behalf of the Saudi Embassy.
The next day Saudi coalition strikes around Yemen’s capital reportedly killed or wounded at least 30 civilians.
Nonetheless, the Saudi’s and their lobbyists in DC have continued to tout Saudi humanitarian efforts in Yemen. On January 22, 2018 they announced the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO) plan to address the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
The next day a Saudi coalition airstrike in Yemen reportedly killed nine civilians, including four children.
Despite these and many other instances where the Saudi lobby’s claims have been rebutted by the horrifying realities on the ground in Yemen, the US has continued to support the Saudi led coalition. But, that support may be coming to an end if Congress passes legislation introduced this week by Senators Sanders (I-VT) and Lee (R-UT) to block US support for the Yemen war.
Saudi lobbyists are likely feverishly working to ensure the legislation doesn’t pass. They will not tell of the immense suffering of the Yemen people in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis or of how the war is helping al Qaeda grow stronger and richer.
They’ll make promises of humanitarian assistance, of improvements to avoid civilian casualties. They’ll promise things belied by the realities of the Yemen war. It’s time that Congress stopped believing them.
Ben Freeman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, and author of The Foreign Policy Auction, an investigation of foreign influence in America. E-mail:
Concerns Over Yemen as Saudi Arabia
Agrees to Buy $7 Billion in Weapons From US Firms
(November 23, 2017) — Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy about $7 billion worth of precision guided munitions from US defense contractors, sources familiar with the matter said, a deal that some lawmakers may object to over American weapons having contributed to civilian deaths in the Saudi campaign in Yemen.
Raytheon (rtn, +0.35%) and Boeing (ba, +1.68%) are the companies selected, the sources said, in a deal that was part of a $110 billion weapons agreement that coincided with President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May.
Both companies declined comment on the weapons sale.
Arms sales to the kingdom and other Gulf Cooperation Council member states have become increasingly contentious in the US Congress, which must approve such sales. The US State Department has yet to formally notify Congress of the precision-guided munitions deal.
“We do not comment to confirm or deny sales until they are formally notified to Congress,” a State Department official said, adding the US government will take into account factors “including regional balance and human rights as well as the impact on the US defense industrial base.”
US and Saudi Arabia Sign $110 Billion Arms Deal
President Trump and Saudi King Salman signed a series of agreements. The Yemen civil war pits Iran-allied Houthi rebels against the government backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition. Nearly 4,800 civilians have been killed since March 2015, the United Nations said in March.
Saudi Arabia has either denied attacks or cited the presence of fighters in the targeted areas and has said it has tried to reduce civilian casualties.
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman declined to comment on the specific sale, but said in a statement his country will follow through on the agreements signed during Trump’s visit.
He said that while the kingdom has always chosen the United States for weapons purchases, “. . . Saudi Arabia’s market selection remains a choice and is committed to defending its security.”
Trump, a Republican who views weapons sales as a way to create jobs in the United States, has announced billions of dollars in arms sales since taking office in January.
A US government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the agreement is designed to cover a 10-year period and it could be years before actual transfers of weapons take place.
The agreement could be held up in Congress, where Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced in June that he would block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other members of the GCC, over a dispute with Qatar, another US ally in the Gulf.
In November 2016, the administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, halted the sale of $1.29 billion worth of precision guided weapons because of concerns about the extent of civilian casualties in Yemen.
That sale process started in 2015 and included more than 8,000 Laser Guided Bombs for the Royal Saudi Air Force. The package also included more than 10,000 general purpose bombs, and more than 5,000 tail kits used to inexpensively convert “dumb” bombs into laser or GPS-guided weapons.
US lawmakers have grown increasingly critical of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. The coalition had briefly banned naval, air and land transportation to Yemen following a missile fired by the Houthis that was shot down over the Saudi capital Riyadh.
The Senate in June voted 53 to 47 to narrowly defeat legislation that sought to block portions of the 2015 package.
David Des Roches, a senior military fellow at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies in Washington was aware of the deal but said the Saudis “are one errant strike away from moving five or six senators over to the other side.”
Denying Saudi Arabia precision guided munitions was unlikely to change their behavior, he said.
“Saudi Arabia has shown they will fight in Yemen and they’re going to keep on fighting in Yemen regardless of what we think,” Des Roches said.
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