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Viewing cable 10RIYADH159, S) SAUDI ARABIA: RENEWED ASSURANCES ON SATELLITE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10RIYADH159 2010-02-07 09:09 2010-12-07 21:09 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Riyadh
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