It is possible that Italian-made bombs were the ones that hit the building in Sana’a in Yemen on Saturday. At this location, a funeral was in progress. There were 155 casualties and more than 530 wounded. The correspondent for the British TV channel ITV Neil Connery, who entered the building shortly after the bombing, posted via Twitter the photo of a component of a bomb that, according to a Yemeni official, was the Mark 82 type (MK 82).
Other images published via Twitter are more accurate: They report the tag detached from a bomb with the inscription: “For use on MK82, FIN guided bomb.” The serial number follows: 96214ASSY837760-4. The device was manufactured under license of the U.S. defense contractor Raytheon for use on a MK82 bomb. But it is not clear which company actually made it and which country exported it. It could have been Italy.
MK82 bombs are, in fact, manufactured in the Domusnovas factory in Sardinia by RWM Italia, a German subsidiary of the Rheinmetall conglomerate, with a registered office in Ghedi, Brescia province. These bombs are exported from Italy with the permission of the Armament Exports Licensing Unit (Italian acronym UAMA).
Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti confirmed it last Wednesday, albeit indirectly, when she answered a question by Representative Luca Frusone (M5S). Pinotti said: “The company RWM Italia has exported to Saudi Arabia under a license issued in accordance with current legislation.”
During the two-year period of 2012 to 2013, RWM Italia was issued export licenses by UAMA for MK82 and MK83 aerial bombs intended to be exported to Saudi Arabia, for a total value of over €86 million. However, it is impossible to know how many and which bombs were exported from Italy to Saudi Arabia in the last two years: The bulky reports submitted to the Parliament by the Renzi government indicate only the total value of export licenses to individual countries and generic description of the weapons (ammunition, land vehicles, ships, aircraft, etc.).
In the two-year period 2014-15, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has authorized the export to Saudi Arabia of a real military arsenal, for a total value of nearly €420 million. These include “automatic weapons” that can be used for internal repression; “ammunition;” “bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles;” “target acquiring equipment;” “explosives;” “aircraft,” including components for the Eurofighter “Al Salam,” the Tornado “Al Yamamah” and the EH-101 helicopters; “electronic equipment” and “specialized equipment for military training.” During this two-year period, military systems and materials for more than €478 million were delivered to the Saudi Royal Armed Forces.
But a key fact is missing in the detailed tables compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attached to the government report that show all the individual licenses issued to manufacturers: the country of destination. For example, it is reported that in 2015 RWM Italia was issued 24 licenses for a total value of over €28 million, but the target countries are not listed.
It is reported, for example, that in 2015, RWM Italia was granted a license to export 250 500-pound MK82 inert bombs along with 150 other inert MK 84 bombs, for a total value of over €3 million, but the ministerial table does not mention the buyer country, making it impossible for Parliament and research centers to analyze the data. In the past, this information had been provided, since the days of the first reports submitted to Parliament by the Andreotti governments. And, by cross-referencing the tables provided by the various ministries, the data could be inferred even during the Berlusconi government.
Pinotti claims the government report would allow Parliament “the verification and control activities expected from the Parliament.” If it does not state exactly what is being exported to a country, how can the Parliament control it?
But one thing is certain: In the years 2014-15, the Renzi government authorized exports to Saudi Arabia for a total value of nearly €419 million, a quantum leap from the last decade. Ten years ago, licenses for weapons intended for the Saudi military forces did not exceed €10 million.
But there is another fact. In the months between October and December 2015, at least four Boeing 747 cargo planes from the Azerbaijani company Silk Way, loaded with a cargo of bombs produced in the Domusnovas factory of RWM Italia in Sardinia, departed from the civil airport Elmas in Cagliari. The cargo landed at the Taif base of the Royal Saudi Air Force in Saudi Arabia. Last January, the Italian Network for Disarmament filed a complaint with various prosecutors about these expeditions and those of all military systems that Italy is sending to Saudi Arabia. Brescia Deputy Prosecutor Fabio Salamone has opened an investigation “against unknown parties” for alleged violations of the law on armament exports.
The Law No. 185 dated July 9, 1990, states that the exports “of armaments and the assignment of the corresponding production licenses shall conform to the foreign and defense policy of Italy” and that “such operations are regulated by the State, according to the principles of the Republican Constitution that rejects war as a means of settling international disputes.” The Act specifically prohibits the export of weapons “to countries in a situation of armed conflict, in contrast to the principles of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, without prejudice of the international obligations of Italy or the different resolutions of the Council of Ministers, to be adopted after consultation of the Chambers” as well as “to countries which policy contrasts with the principles of Article 11 of the Constitution.”
Since March 2015, in fact, Saudi Arabia has set itself at the head of a coalition that, without any international mandate, has intervened militarily in the conflict in Yemen. Resolution 2216, approved on April 14, 2015, by the U.N. Security Council, does not justify nor condemn the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition. It only “takes note” of the request by the Yemeni President to the member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council “to intervene with all means necessary, including military, to protect Yemen and its people from the Houti aggression.”
The consequences of such a request are evident: To date, at least 4,125 civilians have been killed and over 7,200 wounded. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly condemned the Saudi air strikes that hit towns, schools, markets and hospitals, like those managed by Doctors Without Borders: A third of their raids were aimed at civilian targets. The Saudis have stated these were “collateral damage.”
Last August, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for an independent and impartial inquiry into violations of humanitarian law perpetrated by all parties involved in the conflict in Yemen. The request was supported by the E.U. countries, including Italy, but then it was withdrawn by the E.U. without indicating any reason. After the Saudis’ pressure, the proposal was shelved, and therefore the investigation by the Yemeni authorities will continue.
In the face of the humanitarian catastrophe, the Yemeni population is suffering. Last February the European Parliament voted by a large majority for a resolution in which it requested the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Commission Vice-President, Federica Mogherini, to “launch an initiative by the European Union and the imposition of an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia,” based on the serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian law committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Pinotti did not mention this resolution during her speech in Parliament. Perhaps because so far, it has not been implemented.
Instead, exports of arms and military deals of European countries with the Gulf monarchies have continued. They go on under the guise of fighting ISIS, but ISIS has actually taken advantage of the conflict to gain ground in Yemen.
Giorgio Beretta is an analyst with the Permanent Observatory on Small Arms and Defense Policy in Brescia.