Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia was under intense scrutiny last night as it emerged the RAF is training their air force.
The Daily Mail can reveal more than 100 British personnel have been deployed to the kingdom over the past four years.
It comes in the midst of international condemnation over the alleged murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 60, inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
Newly graduated Saudi air force officers march in front of F-15 fighter jets during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the creation of the King Faisal Air Academy at King Salman airbase in Riyadh
Trade minister Liam Fox is refusing to pull out of a conference in Saudi Arabia next week. His office said his diary was ‘yet to be finalised’ despite him being listed as a speaker at the investment event known as ‘Davos in the Desert’.
Major firms such as Google have dropped out, along with bosses of three big banks including HSBC.
Director of Al-Arab News Channel Jamal Khashoggi
The Mail can disclose 111 RAF personnel have been seconded to BAE Systems to provide training to Royal Saudi Air Force aircrew and engineering support over the last four years, including 21 sent over in the first five months of this year.
In 2015, 34 RAF personnel were seconded there, with 30 the following year and 26 in 2017.
In a written statement, defence minister Guto Bebb said: ‘These personnel were all seconded to BAE Systems to provide training support to Royal Saudi Air Force aircrew and routine aircraft engineering support.’
BAE sources stressed they were not involved in military operations.
Senior British military advisers are also in control rooms assisting the Saudi-led coalition, which has staged bombing raids across Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians.
A handful of UK officers have been providing advice on targeting techniques for several years. According to Saudi Arabia they have access to the ‘target list’.
Last night Tory MP Crispin Blunt said the Government should consider its relationship with the Saudis following the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi. The former chairman of the foreign affairs select committee said: ‘Nothing should be off the table given how serious this is.’
Bob Seely, a member of the foreign affairs select committee, said: ‘If we are telling Russians not to kill journalists, we can’t turn a blind eye when our allies do it.’
The row came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew into Riyadh for talks with King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler.
Mr Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate on October 2 to sort some paperwork for his upcoming wedding but was never seen leaving. Pressure is growing on the Gulf state to give a full explanation.
An MoD spokesman said: ‘All UK military personnel in Saudi Arabia are under UK command and control.
‘We have an ongoing and wide- ranging defence engagement relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has included the provision of training courses and advice and guidance. The UK is not a member of the Saudi-led coalition and plays no part in setting the coalition policy or in executing air strikes.’
In March this year Britain and Saudi Arabia struck a controversial £100million aid agreement.
The Government described the deal as a ‘new long-term partnership’ to boost economic development in some of the poorest countries.
‘Evidence’ of dissident’s death
TURKISH police have found ‘certain evidence’ that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, it was claimed yesterday.
A high-level Turkish official said the evidence was recovered during a detailed search. It was also found that parts of the building had been recently re-painted.
The Saudi consul-general flew out of Istanbul after it was announced his residence would be searched next. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: ‘My hope is we can reach conclusions that will give us a reasonable opinion as soon as possible.’ The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the ‘onus is on the Saudi authorities to reveal what happened’.
On Monday it was claimed that the kingdom was preparing to admit Mr Khashoggi died inside its Istanbul consulate after an interrogation went wrong.