Saudi tanks ready to crush dissent - with Thales Nederland equipment

Today Saudi protesters called for a "Day of Rage" . But the Saudi regime, one of the world's most repressive has made public protests illegal. Still several hundred people went out on the streets of Riyadh last week, as well as in other cities in the oil-rich country. They shouted slogans against the monarchy and demanded the release of political prisoners. The Saudi Interior Ministry has dispatched some 10,000 troops to the east of the country, where the grievances against the government run highest.

Some ten days ago Saudi Arabia sent dozens of tanks to Bahrain. Eyewitnesses reported seeing "15 tank carriers carrying two tanks each heading towards Bahrain" along the 25-km King Fahd causeway, which links the small island nation of Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. Earlier the Saudi regime said it stood ready "with all its capabilities" to shore up Bahrain's ruling royal family

Typically, Dutch arms exports are involved again. Despite all the recent turmoil, Thales Nederland sent out a [in Dutch] news release last month about the successful implementation of its SOTAS intercom equipment - "key chain in all operational communication"-  in the US-supplied Abrams M1A2S main battle tanks for Saudi Arabia.

Dutch export policy towards the Saudis has followed a zigzag track over the past years. Former minister of Foreign Affairs De Hoop Scheffer (Christian Democrats, the later NATO secretary general) admitted that he was not happy with a 21 million euro export licence for patrol vessels agreed by his Liberal predecessor Van Aartsen in 2002. In 2007 and 2008 however Christian Democrat Foreign minister Verhagen granted licenses for substantial new exports, including the 10 million euro tank equipment deal. According to the minister, these were not against EU arms export criteria because a direct link between the equipment and "specific concerns on the humen rights situation" was lacking. Again in June 2010, The Hague allowed for the export of another 2.2 million euro worth of parts for armoured vehicles.

It will take Saudi tanks and armoured vehicles used against Saudi or Bahraini protesters before the the Dutch government will admit that there is a relation between army vehicles and repression of popular dissent.

(FS, 11 March 2011)