By Scott Taylor
There was a very disturbing news story last week about a Saudi Arabian airstrike that killed 50 civilians and injured a further 77. What was particularly upsetting about this incident was that the primary target had been a school bus and the majority of the victims were young children. The graphic photographs that appeared in media reports showed bloodied and bewildered innocent youngsters.
I have no doubt that the current diplomatic spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia helped to propel this story into the headlines of national Canadian newspapers as opposed to it being yet another global tragedy buried in the back of the World Section.
However, the killing of innocent Yemeni children in an errant airstrike is certainly a clear illustration of the hypocrisy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The initial spat with Canada began over a couple of careless tweets wherein Global Affairs Canada admonished Saudi Arabian officials for having arrested some human rights activists and then demanded the “immediate release” of these same Saudi activists.
The Saudis launched a twitter counter-attack, criticizing Canada for our “overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. Then the Saudis went completely bonkers – ordering Canada’s Ambassador out of Riyadh, recalling their Ambassador to Ottawa, ordering the immediate repatriation of some 16,000 Saudi nationals, currently enrolled in Canadian universities, suspending flights to Canada by their state airline and cancelling any new trade initiatives.
Then we were presented with this grim reminder in the form of Yemeni children blasted apart by a Saudi bomb, that Saudi Arabia has no qualms about overtly and blatantly interfering in the internal affairs of foreign sovereign states.
Since March 25, 2015, the Royal Saudi Arabian air force has been waging a relentless bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen. This air campaign is being conducted with the full support of the U.S. intelligence apparatus and a number of allied Gulf Arab States. The official line is that they are bombing the Houthi rebels in support of Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
The truth is that the Houthi rebels under the leadership of Sayyid Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi and allied with supporters of a former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, defeated President Hadi’s forces in March 2015.
It was immediately after Hadi fled into exile that the Saudi air force began bombing the Houthis. In other words they are not rebels any more if they are victors.
The perpetuation of the civil war in Yemen by Saudi forces has killed an estimated 5,200 innocent civilians to date, with another 50,000 having died of starvation. It is estimated that since March 2015, over 3.1 million Yemenis have been displaced by the ongoing conflict.
Unlike a couple of impolite tweets, Saudi Arabia’s blatant and overt interference in Yemen has had a very deadly impact.
Then there was the March 2011 uprising in Bahrain by the Shiite majority, challenging the reign of the Sunni Royal family. While the U.S. was eagerly fanning the flames of the so-called Arab spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya, the Americans did not want the apple cart to be upset in Bahrain.
As a result, Saudi military forces were brought in to disperse in the Shiite demonstrators and to shore up the Bahraini monarch. Coincidentally, the U.S. 5th fleet has long been based in Bahrain, from which it can strategically dominate the Persian Gulf. But I digress.
Getting back to the Canada-Saudi dispute, one of the things Canadian pundits are feverishly speculating about is whether or not the Saudis will punish Canada further by cancelling their current purchase of an armoured vehicle fleet from General Dynamics Land Systems of London, Ontario.
The deal is reportedly worth a whopping $15 billion and creates over 7,000 high-tech jobs in southern Ontario. That deal was brokered by the Harper conservatives in 2015, and ratified by Trudeau’s liberals after they were elected in October 2015. In other words, the armoured vehicle deal was signed well after Saudi Arabia began its overt and blatant interference in Yemen.
Instead of waiting for the Saudis to drop the other shoe, we should correct our pervious hypocrisy and cancel this deal ourselves. It is embarrassing to watch Chrystia Freeland preach about defending human rights, while she simultaneously fears the cancellation of a contract to supply a repressive regime with the combat capability to commit further repression.
Cancel the Saudi deal, bite the bullet and contract General Dynamics to build a Light Armoured Vehicle fleet for the Canadian militia instead. We would keep our integrity, boost our reserve forces’ capability, save high-tech jobs, and we would please Donald Trump by increasing our defence budget.