Britain must continue to support Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen to prevent the country being used to launch a fresh series of terror attacks against the West, the Saudi foreign minister has warned.
Al-Qaeda terror cells based in Yemen have been responsible for plotting numerous attacks against the West, including attempts to place bombs hidden in computer ink cartridges on cargo planes.
But questions have been raised about Britain’s continued military support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen after human rights groups claimed British-made munitions were responsible for the rising civilian death toll in Yemen’s brutal civil war.
The parliamentary committee on arms export controls is meeting this week to finalise a report that is expected to criticise Saudi Arabia’s 10-month bombing campaign in Yemen, with a cross-party coalition of MPs expected to demand the government ends arms sales to Riyadh.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has already rejected claims British arms exports have been used against civilians in Saudi air strikes, and insisted the UK will go on selling weapons to Riyadh.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, speaking exclusively to the Telegraph on Monday night, said it was “in Britain’s interest” to continue supporting the Saudis in the battle to prevent Yemen falling into the hands of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
“Yemen is a country that has been hijacked by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who are trying to overthrow the legitimate government,” said Mr Jubeir.
“It is in Britain’s interests to help restore Yemen’s democratically-elected government and prevent the country becoming a safe haven for terror groups to carry out a new wave of terrorist attacks attacks against Britain and other Western countries.”
He said cells of al-Qaeda terrorists were taking advantage of Yemen’s lawlessness to devise a new wave of terror attacks such as the “shoe-bomber” plot, where British Islamist Richard Reid tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his shoe on a flight to Miami.
Mr Jubeir denied claims by human rights groups that Saudi warplanes were deliberately targeting civilian facilities such as hospitals and schools, claiming Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were using them as military centres to launch attacks against the Saudi-led coalition.
“Saudi Arabia is fighting a legitimate war,” he said. “We did not start this: the Iranian-backed Houthis started this. We have a situation where many of the claims being made about civilian casualties are not accurate. Whenever there are claims of inaccurate bombing we investigate them and take action where necessary. But many of the schools and hospitals that have been hit were no longer being used as schools and hospitals but as military centres by the Houthis.”
The Saudi official also stressed the importance of maintaining his country’s long-standing cooperation with Britain’s military and intelligence services. “We have excellent levels of cooperation in these spheres and it is important that it continues,” he said.
Apart from maintaining traditional links on military and intelligence cooperation, Mr Jubeir also said post-Brexit Britain could look forward to forging new trade links with the kingdom as Saudi Arabia embarks on its ambitious plan to restructure its economy under a plan called Saudi Vision 2030. “We are looking at more than $2 trillion worth of investment opportunities over the next decade, and this will take the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Britain to an entirely new level post-Brexit.”
Mr Jubeir is visiting Britain to lobby ministers to continue supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen as well as giving his backing to diplomatic efforts to agree a ceasefire in Syria’s long-running civil war.
Riyadh remains committed to seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus, and Mr Jubeir said Saudi remained still remained committed to achieving this outcome despite the strengthened position Mr Assad now enjoys as a result of the military support he is receiving from Russia and Iran.
“It is inconceivable that the Syrian people will allow a man who is responsible for the deaths of more than 400,000 people to remain in power,” he said.
The Saudi diplomat was also critical of recent statements issued by Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei criticising the kingdoms handling of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which begins next week. “Iran is isolated in the Arab world,” he said. “The Islamic world is saying to Iran, ‘enough is enough’.
“The Iranians are trying to politicise the Hajj and the Islamic world is rejecting their claims.”