HOW long will the Ministry of Defence investigation into allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi forces in Yemen take?
Is this a serious, if belated, commitment to examine the effects of the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign on the civilian population or an attempt to flannel critics?
Will ministers expect opponents of the government’s current plan to sell even more warplanes to be mesmerised by reference to the MoD probe?
Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country and President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government among the most corrupt, which sparked its overthrow two years ago by the Shi’ite Houthi opposition.
This proved unpalatable to both the US, which had enlisted Hadi in its global war against terror, and the head-chopping, monarcho-religious regime in Riyadh.
Its pitiless bombing campaign, assisted by warplanes from various Gulf monarchies, accounts for most of the 10,000 Yemeni fatalities.
The MoD must have been spoilt for choice in identifying 257 alleged breaches of international humanitarian law.
If it wishes to be taken seriously, it should have initiated a parallel inquiry into British government culpability for war crimes in Yemen and elsewhere.
Britain’s arms industry is cosseted like no other, with export credits and corporate profits guaranteed by the government.
Not that this translates into employment security for the workforce, which has declined to the tune of over 50,000 in the last decade.
Exports to Saudi Arabia account for about half of all Britain’s annual arms sales, raising serious concerns about the industry’s direction.
If, as the MoD insists, arms exports to Riyadh are “compliant with the UK export licensing criteria,” those criteria need reassessment.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf acolytes have, alongside Turkey, been financing, arming, training and supporting the jihadist groups, linked to both Isis and al-Qaida, tasked with overthrowing or, at least, destabilising Syria.
Yet successive governments, in line with their US allies, treat these brutal autocracies as factors for stability worthy of support.
The same justification was put forward over decades, again by both Labour and Tory governments, for collaboration with apartheid South Africa.
And a similar pro-imperial mindset permeated political thought in Westminster to excuse one-party corrupt rule in the squalid Orange statelet ensconced in the six north-east counties of Ireland.
But why bring up this historical anachronism in discussing British government complicity in war crimes committed by Saudi aerial forces in Yemen?
Because Tory ministers and Unionist MPs are currently engaged in an operation to rewrite recent history in Northern Ireland, undermining aspects of the Good Friday agreement.
Tories and Unionists have seized upon the discrediting of methods used by the Public Interest Lawyers team to proclaim the total falsity of all allegations of misconduct by British soldiers in Iraq.
They moved a step further yesterday, giving a onesided gloss to the years of conflict in the six counties.
The long-discredited myth of the British military caught in the middle in a war between Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries was given a fresh airing to cover up army collusion with anti-Catholic death squads.
Suggesting that the British army, including its Northern Irish membership, was blameless undercuts Good Friday commitments to reconciliation and equality of esteem.
It is part of an ongoing propaganda exercise to conflate the arms industry, British soldiers, “help for heroes,” imperialist wars and support for dictatorships in the name of stability as patriotic and positive.
The Morning Star will constantly speak out against such efforts to enforce complicity in imperialism’s crimes.
This article appeared in The Morning Star, Friday 24th Feb 2017