France’s lucrative arms exports to the Gulf came under renewed scrutiny this week following the release of a classified report showing that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has made much wider use of French arms than officials in Paris acknowledge.
On October 3, 2018, a day after journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again, French President Emmanuel Macron received a highly classified intelligence note, detailing the position of French-made arms used by the Saudi-led coalition fighting a bloody war in Yemen.
The 15-page note by France's DRM military intelligence agency showed that French arms including tanks and laser-guided missile systems sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are being used in the conflict, and that swathes of Yemen’s civilian population live within their range.
Though intended only for Macron, his prime minister, and the foreign and defence ministers, the document was eventually leaked to the independent investigative website Disclose, which published it in full on Monday, casting unwanted attention on France’s involvement in the war devastating Yemen.
The report prompted renewed criticism from opposition politicians and NGOs, with the head of Human Rights Watch in France, Bénédicte Jeannerod, stating that “the government can no longer deny the risk of complicity in war crimes”.
Macron’s government has repeatedly claimed that French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and its allies are used solely for defensive purposes, a stance that has become increasingly hard to maintain as the death toll from the devastating conflict continues to rise.
"To my knowledge, French weapons are not being used in an offensive capacity in the war in Yemen,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Radio Classique on Thursday, sticking to the official line. “I do not have any evidence that would lead me to believe that French arms are behind civilian victims in Yemen,” she added.
But according to Sébastien Nadot, a French lawmaker and former member of Macron’s LREM party, the classified document proves that Parly and her colleagues in government have been deliberately concealing the facts.
“Ministers are in possession of a document that shows they have been lying for months – and the source is our own intelligence service!” Nadot, who caused a kerfuffle in parliament last month by displaying a “France kills in Yemen” banner, told FRANCE 24.
“How can we speak of weapons of defence when we know French-made tanks are deployed 800 kilometres [into Yemeni territory]?” asked the now-independent lawmaker, whose calls for a parliamentary investigation into the use of French arms in Yemen’s conflict have been dismissed.