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Cablegate: (S) Saudi Arabia: Renewed Assurances On Satellite

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRH #0159/01 0380924
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 070924Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2439

S E C R E T RIYADH 000159

NOFORN
SIPDIS

FOR NEA/ARP: JHARRIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/17/2025
TAGS: PREL PINR SA YM
SUBJECT: (S) SAUDI ARABIA: RENEWED ASSURANCES ON SATELLITE
IMAGERY

REF: SECSTATE 8892

Classified By: Amb. James B. Smith for reasons 1.4 (b, c and d)

SUMMARY
--------

1. (S/NF) Ambassador met with Assistant Minister of Defense
and Aviation Prince Khaled bin Sultan to relay U.S. concerns
about sharing USG imagery with Saudi Arabia in light of
evidence that Saudi aircraft may have struck civilian targets
during its fighting with the Houthis in northern Yemen.
Prince Khaled described the targeting decision-making process
and while not denying that civilian targets might have been
hit, gave unequivocal assurances that Saudi Arabia considered
it a priority to avoid strikes against civilian targets.
Based on the assurances received from Prince Khaled, the
Ambassador has approved, as authorized in reftel, the
provision of USG imagery of the Yemeni border area to the
Saudi Government. End summary.

USG CONCERNS ABOUT POSSIBLE STRIKES ON CIVILIAN TARGETS
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (S/NF) Ambassador Smith delivered points in reftel to
Prince Khaled on February 6, 2010. The Ambassador
highlighted USG concerns about providing Saudi Arabia with
satellite imagery of the Yemen border area absent greater
certainty that Saudi Arabia was and would remain fully in
compliance with the laws of armed conflict during the conduct
of military operations, particularly regarding attacks on
civilian targets. The Ambassador noted the USG's specific
concern about an apparent Saudi air strike on a building that
the U.S. believed to be a Yemeni medical clinic. The
Ambassador showed Prince Khaled a satellite image of the
bomb-damaged building in question.

IF WE HAD THE PREDATOR, THIS MIGHT NOT HAVE HAPPENED
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (S/NF) Upon seeing the photograph, Prince Khalid remarked,
"This looks familiar," and added, "if we had the Predator,
maybe we would not have this problem." He noted that Saudi
Air Force operations were necessarily being conducted without
the desired degree of precision, and recalled that a clinic
had been struck, based on information received from Yemen
that it was being used as an operational base by the Houthis.
Prince Khalid explained the Saudi approach to its fight with
the Houthis, emphasizing that the Saudis had to hit the
Houthis very hard in order to "bring them to their knees" and
compel them to come to terms with the Yemeni government.
"However," he said, "we tried very hard not to hit civilian
targets." The Saudis had 130 deaths and the Yemenis lost as
many as one thousand. "Obviously," Prince Khaled observed,
"some civilians died, though we wish that this did not
happen."

HOW THE TARGETS WERE SELECTED
-----------------------------

4. (S/NF) Prince Khaled gave the Ambassador further
background, explaining that the targets given to the Saudi
Air Force were studied and recommended by a Saudi-Yemeni
joint committee headed by Saudi and Yemeni general officers.
That joint committee reported to him, and no targets were
struck unless they had clearance from this joint committee.
"Did they make mistakes? Possibly." Prince Khaled also
reported that the Saudis had problems with some of the
targeting recommendations received from the Yemeni side. For
instance, there was one occasion when Saudi pilots aborted a
strike, when they sensed something was wrong about the
information they received from the Yemenis. It turned out
that the site recommended to be hit was the headquarters of
General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, the Yemeni northern area
military commander, who is regarded as a political opponent
to President Saleh. This incident prompted the Saudis to be
more cautious about targeting recommendations from the Yemeni
government.

CEASEFIRE COMING SOON
---------------------

5. (S/NF) The Ambassador told Prince Khaled that the USG is
looking to Saudi Arabia to help bring an end to the Houthi
fighting soon. Prince Khaled responded that Saudi Arabia is
"looking for ways to end this conflict in a way that fosters
good relations." He said that he met with President Saleh
last Wednesday to discuss Houthi ceasefire terms, and they
agreed that, so long as the Houthis deliver on the terms they
offered, there should be news about a ceasefire "within a

week." As part of the ceasefire arrangements the Yemeni
military will be deployed on the Yemeni side of the border to
prevent future Houthi incursions into Saudi Arabia. "Then,"
Prince Khaled noted, "we can concentrate on Al-Qaida."

COMMENT
------

6. (S/NF) Prince Khaled, in addressing the Ambassador's
concerns about possible targeting of civilian sites appeared
neither defensive nor evasive. He was unequivocal in his
assurance that Saudi military operations had been and would
continue to be conducted with priority to avoiding civilian
casualties. The Ambassador found this assurance credible,
all the more so in light of Prince Khaled's acknowledgment
that mistakes likely happened during the strikes against
Houthi targets, of the inability of the Saudi Air Force to
operate with adequate precision, and the unreliability of
Yemeni targeting recommendations. Based on these assurances,
the Ambassador has approved, as authorized in reftel, the
provision of USG imagery of the Yemeni border area to the
Saudi Government. While the fighting with the Houthis
appears to be drawing to a close, the imagery will be of
continuing value to the Saudi military to monitor and prevent
Houthi incursions across the border as well as enhancing
Saudi capabilities against Al-Qaeda activities in this area.
SMITH

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