Press TV – Saudi Arabia and Britain have decided to finalize a multi-billion-dollar deal for the sale of 48 Typhoon aircraft to Riyadh, despite massive protests against London’s arms supply to the Arab kingdom during its deadly war against Yemen.
In a statement to the London Stock Exchange on Friday, military equipment maker BAE Systems said it signed the preliminary order from Saudi Arabia for 48 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, without providing any financial details.
“The UK government has signed a Memorandum of Intent with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to aim to finalize discussions for the purchase of 48 Typhoon Aircraft,” the statement said.
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson hailed the development, saying, “The Crown Prince’s visit has opened a new chapter in our two countries’ historic relationship.”
“We have taken a vital step towards finalizing another order for Typhoon jets that will increase security in the Middle East and boost British industry and jobs in our unrivalled aerospace sector,” he said.
The deal for the sale of Typhoon warplanes has been under discussion for years, but the two sides could not reach any agreement as they disagreed over the place of production of the jets, with Saudi Arabia urging to have some parts of the process on Saudi soil.
Adding fuel to humanitarian fire
Amnesty International UK’s Director Kate Allen slammed the agreement, saying, “Selling more fighter planes to a country leading a military coalition that is already laying waste to homes, hospitals and schools in Yemen, is just adding fuel to a humanitarian fire.”
“If agreed, this shameful deal will be celebrated in the palaces of Riyadh and by the arms companies who will profit from it, but it will mean even greater destruction for the people of Yemen,” said Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade.
Britain and Saudi Arabia have agreed to raise their bilateral trade and investment to $65 billion for the coming years, but the bulk of their business ties focuses on defense and security.
Britain credits Saudi intelligence sharing with saving British lives and has licensed billions of pounds of weapons and ammunition sales to Saudi Arabia.
In a fiery exchange with opposition lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May defended the country’s military links to Saudi Arabia, saying Saudi intelligence sharing has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of British lives.
Although May noted that she would raise humanitarian concerns about Yemen in his meeting with bin Salman, she stressed that all arms sales to Saudi Arabia were strictly regulated.
She underlined her government’s support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, noting that the campaign has been supported by the UN Security Council.
Bin Salman arrived in London late Tuesday amid massive outcry and protests against Riyadh’s human rights violations and its deadly war on Yemen.
While the British government was trying to welcome the Saudi crown prince with an unusual advertising blitz, anti-war activists and human rights campaigners were touring London with buses and vans for days, carrying banners accusing bin Salman of war crimes. On Wednesday, hundreds turned out in London to protest arms sales and Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war.
Bin Salman’s itinerary merely included private meetings with bankers, executives and lawmakers, and he did not speak publicly at any point during the visit.
Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015 to reinstall its former Riyadh-allied government. The military aggression has so far killed over 13,600 Yemenis.
The war is being led by bin Salman, also Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, with the help of the US and the UK.
May’s government has remained defiant in the face of growing pressure to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia, defending the sales amid evidence of war crimes and civilian deaths in Yemen.
The British prime minister was expected to address the humanitarian issues of the Yemen war with the Saudi crown prince at a private dinner inside her country residence on Thursday. After the meeting, however, May awarded bin Salman a family tree showing the descent of the Al Saud dynasty created by Queen Victoria’s consul general in Jeddah in 1880.
The UK has increased its weapons sales by around 500 percent since the onset of the Saudi invasion, according to a report by The Independent. The UK has, so far, sold more than six billion pounds of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Activists accuse Mohammed bin Salman of being the “chief architect” of the Yemen war, which according to the UN, has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, over the past three years, Britain has licensed $6.4 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.