Saudi Arabia’s star has been rising of late in the night sky of foreign relations. Both the United States and the U.K. are on such good terms with the Riyadh that they’re brokering huge weapons deals even as Saudi Arabia turns up tensions with its neighbors in the Gulf over alleged terrorist ties. Now a British think tank has published a report that indicates Saudi Arabia is the country with ties to Muslim extremism, and those findings might just push British leadership into completing its own investigation into where terrorist funding originates and what countries help facilitate its flow.
The Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank, released a report focused on links between overseas funds and hate groups that promote violence. In particular it zeroed in on a “clear and growing link” between extremism funding, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. It also noted that Saudi Arabia has spent vast sums since the 1960s on exporting its brand of Wahhabi Islam, which aligns with many of the human rights issues the West takes issue with.
Saudi Arabia, for its part, called the Society’s report “categorically false.” But the report’s authors are confident enough in their findings that they called on the British government to complete its own report on Muslim extremism, which stalled out in part due to the U.K.’s political ties to Saudi Arabia, not unlike our President’s dramatic shift from foe to friend of the Riyadh. It’s been almost a year since President Trump was actively denigrating Saudi Arabia for its weakness on human rights and ties to the September 11th attacks. But some of his old tweets highlight the current controversy surrounding the Muslim nation.
Rather than either Western country pressing Saudi Arabia on its track record with, say, women or Yemen, and rather than calling for the same kind of inquiry into its foreign funding that Qatar has been subjected to, the U.S. and U.K. have only grown closer to the Riyadh in recent months. For example, the U.S. just made an arms deal worth tens of billions of dollars with the Saudis just before Trump’s first foreign tour. A month ago, the Campaign Against Arms Trade accused the U.K. of selling Saudi Arabia bombs and cluster munitions used in aerial bombings in Yemen that affected civilians.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd defended the sale, stating, “We are always watchful to make sure that their [the Saudis’] influence, where it’s bad, is going to be limited” and indicating that it is British influence that can slowly shift the Saudi’s approach to women’s rights and other areas of disagreement. That will be easier said than done, however, if British leaders literally leave their extensive report on Jihadist organizations on Theresa May’s table.
That report was commissioned by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015 but has yet to be released. Some speculate that’s because its contents might harm British relations with Saudi Arabia. BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the report is nearly complete, but hasn’t made the rounds due to its “embarrassing” content. But the Henry Jackson Society’s work has caught the attention of a few powerful British politicians. Labour MP Dan Jarvis noted the report made the “very worrying” ties between Saudi Arabia and terrorist funding clear. What’s less crystal is whether that’s enough to turn the tide of U.S. or U.K. foreign policy.