UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has raised the prospect of giving military assistance to Saudi Arabia days after the US announced that it too was increasing its military build up in the region following last week’s devastating drone attack on Saudi oil facilities.
The possible deployment of British troops follows the determination of its intelligence community that Iran was responsible for the attack. In a tweet this morning, UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab announced Britain’s position on the matter. The “UK believes it is very likely that Iran was responsible for the outrageous, unlawful attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia,” said Raab while also promising to “work with [our] international partners on a robust diplomatic response and for stability in the region.”
Johnson, who arrived in New York for the annual UN General Assembly talks, repeated the conclusion of British intelligence, which confirmed the US assertion that Iran was responsible for the attacks. “The UK is attributing responsibility with a very high degree of probability to Iran for the Aramco attacks,” he said.
The PM also went further than any other foreign leader, except US President Donald Trump, in support of the Saudis. He said that the UK was open to giving military assistance should the Saudis make such a request. Speaking about Washington’s proposal to deploy troops to help defend Saudi Arabia, he said that the Britain was “following that very closely,” before adding: “If we’re asked by Saudis or Americans to play a role, we will consider in what way we might be useful.”
The most likely request, according to British officials, would be for Britain to deploy surveillance and intelligence assets in the region, rather than soldiers on the ground.
Johnson’s comments, come days after the US announced that it was ready to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia – despite Iranian denial and Yemen’s rebel Houthi group claiming responsibility – raises the prospect of the UK repeating the mistakes of 2003, when it followed the US to wage war on Iraq on the basis of false intelligence.
Britain is the first European country to come out publicly in endorsing the US view that Iran is responsible for the attack on Riyadh’s largest oil processing plant in Abqaiq. The devastating strike on what is described as the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry, nearly halved Riyadh’s capacity through the loss of 5.7 million barrels a day or the equivalent of five per cent of global supplies.
Johnson’s willingness to back Trump to defend the Saudis so early is likely to raise questions over their questionable ties with the kingdom. The UK is already in legal trouble over its arms supply to Riyadh. In June a court of appeals ruled that British arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which has been engaged a brutal war in Yemen, were unlawful. British made weapons are said to have been used by the Saudi’s in alleged war crimes. Under UK export policy, military equipment licences should not be granted if there is a “clear risk” that weapons might be used in a “serious violation of international humanitarian law” judges in the hearing ruled in summer.
Despite the prohibition of selling arms to Riyadh, Johnson’s government has admitted to being in breach of the court of appeals ruling by issuing new licenses to Saudi bound weapons.