Over the years there have been regular movements of US military refuelling planes through Shannon. The government won’t tell us why they land there however. Are they refuelling US military planes just outside Irish airspace? Are they collecting cheap fuel? Are they on their way to warzones to re-fuel fighter jets?
These type of planes are currently engaged in ongoing aerial refuelling sorties in support of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen. They began this in April, linking up with F-16s from the United Arab Emirates and with Saudi F-15s somewhere outside Yemeni airspace.
Might the US refuellers that have been landing at Shannon since April be connected with this?
If so, then we (Ireland) have blood on our hands. There have been thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen since March as a result of the war. According to Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, both sides in the conflict share blame but the Saudi-led air campaign has been responsible for most of the deaths.
A recent article in the Mother Jones news website outlines what is happening:
“Saudi Arabia, backed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and a coalition of Arab nations, has been bombing Yemen for several months in support of the Yemeni government. The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting since March, when Houthi rebels from northern Yemen ousted President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi. While Saudi Arabia claims that it is targeting Houthi fighters and military installations, human rights groups and the United Nations have found the coalition’s air campaign has mostly affected civilians. Since March, more than 2,000 civilians have died and another 4,000 have been injured, most of them killed in the air campaign, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. A new UN report states that 86 percent of casualties in the ongoing violence have been civilians.”
While the conflict in Yemen receives little or no media attention in this part of the world, there is no doubt that the people living there are being subjected to untold brutality and suffering. In a single attack near the western port city of Mokha on 28th September at least 130 civilians were killed. These were mostly women and children according to Yemen’s country director for Doctors Without Borders.
Aerial refuelling is a process of transferring aviation fuel from one military aircraft (the tanker) to another (the receiver) during flight. The procedure allows the receiving aircraft to remain airborne longer and because it can be topped up with extra fuel in the air, air refuelling can allow the Saudi and UAE fighter planes to take off with a greater payload i.e. with more bombs to wreak havoc on the ground in Yemen.
Given the very serious nature of the war crimes being committed there with US support, it is vital that our Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs immediately ascertain whether any of the refuellers supporting the Saudi and UAE bombers, or their crews, passed through Shannon.
Another concern from an Irish point of view is that in April the Pentagon said the US would expedite delivery of ammunition to the Saudis and other members of the coalition who are bombing targets in Yemen. While we have not yet got 2015 data for the transportation of munitions through Shannon and Irish airspace (the Department of Transport insists that we pay for this data), we know that in 2014 the US brought class 1 explosives and rockets through Irish airspace to Saudi Arabia. Another coalition ally, Bahrain, has also had weapons supplied through Irish airspace.
The United States military has assisted the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen with logistical support and billions of dollars in equipment and weaponry. Have any of these been passing over Ireland, with or without our government’s permission, in the last few months?
These are questions that should trouble our government politicians. Not only are they the ones charged with protecting our neutrality, they also have a moral responsibility to ensure we’re not facilitating the death of thousands of civilians. Surely upholding that responsibility is not too much to ask of them.
It should also not be too much to ask for them to uphold the promise they made in their programme for government. In early 2011 Labour and Fine Gael agreed to a document that said “We will enforce the prohibition on the use of Irish airspace, airports and related facilities for purposes not in line with the dictates of international law.” At the Labour Party Special Congress on 5th March the Labour leader and Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore confirmed that this commitment includes the Hague Convention on Neutrality.
Four and a half years have passed since then. And what have they done? Nothing. And yet people die as a result of the policies and the military operations they support.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria … now Yemen. Civilian life has disintegrated there and yet our government pretends it’s got nothing to do with us. Maybe if they put themselves in the shoes of Jameela Abdul Hamad they would think again. A few days ago, The Economist reported
“In the burns ward of the Republican Hospital in Sana’a, Jameela Abdul Hamad sits with her head in her hands. She and her family fled from Taiz, 200km (120 miles) south of Sana’a, a few weeks ago to escape indiscriminate shelling by the Houthi militia who have taken over much of the north of the country. But on September 22nd the family was struck by four rockets while taking refuge in a school on the outskirts of the capital. The rockets were fired by a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that is trying to drive the Houthis out.”
The doctor treating Mrs Hamad says her husband and three children were killed instantly.
Does our government care?