German opposition slams ‘hypocritical’ MoD plans to train Saudi officers

German opposition slams ‘hypocritical’ MoD plans to train Saudi officers
The German defense ministry’s decision to offer training to Saudi Arabian officers triggered a wave of criticism, with some opposition politicians saying it is hypocritical to help a “brutal dictatorship” that supports “Islamists and jihadists” and wages war in Yemen.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen held talks with her Saudi counterpart, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh on Thursday, to push forward the “excellent bilateral relations” with Germany’s “difficult but central partner in the region.”

“The visit aims to finalize the talks on enhanced cooperation in the training sector. Beginning from next year, the German Defense College will host several young officers and staff from the Saudi military,” the embassy said in a statement, as quoted by AFP.

A liaison officer will be sent in return to the Riyadh headquarters of the Saudi-led “Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition” of 39 states, formed in December 2015 as an anti-terrorism tool of Muslim countries.

The brokered agreement is reportedly set to be signed within several weeks. The exact number of Saudi officers and the length of the planned training program remain unclear. The program, however, has already sparked criticism among Germany’s opposition parties.

“It is the height of hypocrisy when the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) concludes a Burqa ban at its congress, but the CDU-led federal government is to supply arms to the burqa exporters and the Bundeswehr is to train the head-off dictatorship militarily,” Sevim Dagdelen, the spokesman for international relations of Die Linke (Left Party) in the Bundestag, told the Junge Welt newspaper.

Apart from Saudi Arabia’s controversial practices, such as having “witchcraft,” “apostasy,” and “adultery” as capital crimes, which are quite inconsistent with the European human rights agenda, aggressive and pro-jihadist Saudi foreign policy has also raised concerns.

“Saudi Arabia leads a brutal war in Yemen and is among the most important supporters of Islamic terrorists in Syria. The terrorist aid from Germany must finally be stopped,” Dagdelen added.

Supporting and battling jihadists at the same time can be rather tricky, and won’t contribute regional stability, according to the Left Party’s defense expert Alexander Neu.

“Since the Saudi Arabians support Islamists and jihadists, they cannot at the same time also combat these things, and care about stability and peace in the Middle East,” Neu said, as quoted by The Local.

“We must prevent the Saudis from bombing the civilian infrastructure in the country,” said Omid Nouripour, a foreign policy spokesman for the Greens. “There are 370,000 seriously under-nourished children in Yemen due to the consequences of the war.”

The concerns about the planned training of Saudi officers, raised by the opposition politicians, are not unfounded in the wake of an increasingly bloody campaign led by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Coalition airstrikes are responsible for the majority of civilians killed in the ongoing conflict, the UN found in August, while calling for an international investigation into the coalition’s violations there.

According to Human Rights Watch's records, since the start of the campaign in Yemen – which began on March 26, 2015 – the coalition, with direct military support from the US and assistance from the UK, has conducted at least 58 “unlawful airstrikes,” with other human rights organizations and the UN having documented dozens more.

Since the beginning of the war there have been multiple reports of Saudi jets targeting schools, hospitals, marketplaces and other civilian buildings. One of the most outrageous incidents was a carnage at a funeral in October. Saudi-led coalition jets carried out a strike on the ceremony in the capital city, Sana'a, killing over 150 and injuring over 500 with US-made bombs in one hit. The coalition admitted the strike, but called it a “mistake” due to bad intelligence.