Just about a week after halting a bombs’ sale to Riyadh following a widespread indignation over Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate bombing in Yemen, the Spanish government said it would still go ahead with the deal.
“The decision is that these bombs will be delivered to honor a contract that comes from 2015, and was made by the previous government,” the Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told Onda Cero radio. He went on to say that the contract was reviewed three times by a commission that authorizes arms sales while several ministries worked on the issue.
“We found no reason not to carry it out,” Borrell said. When asked about any guarantees that the use of the Spanish-produced bombs would not result in casualties among the Yemeni civilians, the minister said that the laser-guided bombs have “extraordinary precision” and, thus, do not “produce the same sort of bombing as less sophisticated weapons … that create the sort of tragedy that we have all condemned.”
The sudden U-turn comes just ten days after the Spanish Defense Ministry confirmed that it already began to cancel a 2015 contract between the two countries for 400 laser-guided bombs, adding that Madrid would pay Riyadh back €9.2 million ($10.6 million) for the undelivered weapons. According to some media reports, Spain eventually decided to proceed with the deal to avoid jeopardizing a bigger arms contract with the Saudis.
The Spanish state-owned shipbuilder Navantia has recently signed a €1.8-billion ($ 2.1-billion) contract to sell five corvettes to Saudi Arabia, according to the Spanish El Pais newspaper. The news comes amid ongoing international criticism of the Saudi-led coalition over its bombing campaign in Yemen.
The coalition intervened into Yemen’s civil war, which has been ongoing for over three years, on the side of the Yemeni government that fights against the Shiite Houthi rebels. It has been repeatedly accused of waging an indiscriminate bombing campaign and being responsible for most of the documented civilian casualties.
At least 6,660 civilians died in the conflict between March 2015 and August 2018, according to a recent UN report. The true figure is believed to be higher, though. The UN report also found that the coalition regularly failed to use its own “no-strike list” when selecting targets.
In one of the most recent high-profile cases, the Saudi-led coalition bombed a school bus, killing 40 children and 11 adults. The strike also left 77 people injured. Human Rights Watch then called the bombing of the school bus an apparent war crime, and urged countries to “immediately halt weapons sales” to Riyadh.
The Saudi military officials, however, said that the bus was actually a “legitimate” military target. Colonel Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, told CNN that the target could not have been a school bus because “there [was] no school at that time when the incident happened.”
His words came just a day after a joint probe conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) concluded that “mistakes” were made while carrying out the airstrike.
The Saudi-led blockade on Yemen also resulted in shortages of food, medicine, and clean water in what is already the Arab world’s poorest country. Some 22 million Yemenis, including more than 11 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance, in what the Norwegian Refugee Council last year called a “man-made famine of Biblical proportions.”
Riyadh’s western partners, however, continue to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons. In March, the US President Donald Trump touted $12.5 billion in finalized arms sales to Riyadh, which is only a part of a wider $350 billion arms deal struck between the two countries last year. Spain is the fourth-largest arms seller to the Saudi kingdom, behind the US, the UK, and France.