Flanders poppies blow in the wind of Dubai: Arab nations spend awesome sums on arms - but don't know why

THERE WERE flowers everywhere, as if this was a wedding rather than an arms bazaar. Roses, lilies, chrysanthemums, all potted neatly between the missiles and the wide screens with their action-replays of the Gulf war's supposedly surgical precision bombing.

But the brightest flower to be seen in Dubai was as artificial as it was ironic: the blood- red poppy of Flanders. Did the captains of the British aviation industry, the ambassador and consuls - did the Prince of Wales himself, who wore a poppy in the lapel of his grey suit - understand the paradox?

'In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row/ That mark our place.' Those lines were written in 1915 after the second battle of Ypres, and all last week the same red poppy could be seen dancing on the breasts of men as they admired the latest in 'combat support weapons', the new Hellfire 2 fire-and-forget missile of the Martin Marietta Corporation, South Africa's Rooivalk attack helicopter, the Apache, the Puma, the Harrier, the Lynx, the F-18 and the Mirage 2000. What, one wondered, was the poppy's message here in Dubai?

It was clearly not directed at the Arabs who came here in their thousands to ponder the merits of the new Leclerc tank, the Hornets and the Apaches. Indeed, the very figures already squandered on this technology by the Arab Gulf states are fast approaching the point of obscenity.

This year alone, Kuwait is buying 236 US M1A2 Abrams tanks at a cost of dollars 2bn (pounds 1.3bn). Saudi Arabia is buying dollars 7.5bn worth of British Tornadoes and dollars 3.9bn worth of French frigates, after last year's announcement of an awesome dollars 9bn purchase of US F-15XP fighter jets.

To understand these figures, you need to remember the total Saudi financial support for the Palestinian-Israeli Gaza- Jericho accord: a mere dollars 100m. The United Arab Emirates, which hosted last week's arms show and is buying dollars 3.5bn worth of of Leclerc tanks this year, has pledged just dollars 25m to the Palestinians. And one could not help suspecting that the West prefers it that way. After all, current sales of weapons to the Middle East - mainly the Arab Gulf states - are running at dollars 46m a day. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, which produced this grim calculation, says that the US sold well over dollars 28bn worth of arms after the Gulf war, of which the Saudis accounted for dollars 17bn.

It is therefore the Gulf conflict - which, like the First World War, was supposed to be another war to end all wars - that has helped us sell all these new weapons to the Arabs. Britain and America are the two largest suppliers of arms to the Middle East; more than half our arms exports go there, and about 40 per cent of France's.

But when you ask the Arab officials why they burn up their money on this technology, their replies are curiously abject. 'I often ask myself this question,' a defence ministry cost analyst from a Gulf emirate admitted last week. 'We buy it because it's there. It's like perfume. If you have the money, you want to buy it. But why don't you ask the men who manufacture these weapons?' And, of course, the arms salesmen reply that if we want to know why the Arabs buy all these weapons, we should ask the Arabs.

As for the morality of it all, there is an American response to such questions. US arms manufacturers conform to the American arms regulations. Weapons are sold only after Congress has an opportunity to oppose the sale.

So what about southern Lebanon, I asked Robert Trice, vice-president and general manager of McDonnell Douglas, whose Apache helicopters were used by the Israelis to attack Lebanese villages last July? How would he reply to the men and women whose children were wounded by missiles fired from the Apaches that his company made? 'I'd tell them to write to the US government,' Mr Trice replied. 'Of course, we hate the idea of innocents being hurt. And believe me, we get letters from that area, too. And that's what we tell the people. They have to write to the American government.'

A visit to the salesmen of the Martin Marietta Corporation proved equally informative. Yes, it had heard that the Israelis had used one of their Hellfire missiles to assassinate Abbas Moussawi, the Hizbollah leader, killed with his wife and five-year old son while driving his armoured limousine in February last year.

Would that have been the new Hellfire 2 missile, I asked? 'No, the Israelis only have the Hellfire 1C. It would have been a Hellfire 1C that killed them. We're not political in this. We manufacture and sell weapons according to the law.'

So what, I asked, would the Moussawi family have known at the moment of their deaths in the Hizbollah leader's car? 'I don't think they would have known a thing. The missile is very fast. It atomises everything inside a vehicle. There would be nothing left.'

It all seemed so far away at Dubai where the atmosphere of the air show - civilian as well as military - and arms bazaar were like a race-track meeting, complete with hostesses. 'We are just part of the decoration,' a mini-skirted Nepalese girl said glumly behind the royal pavilion.

Or like the crystal Austrian chandeliers hanging in the royal tent, erected inside Dubai airport's largest hangar. Like the fine, well-chilled French Burgundy. Like the limousines which brought the Saudis in their gold-fringed gowns. Like the silver salvers upon which black-tied waiters offered French chocolates to the Arabs of the Gulf.

No one would mention the fact that, Iran and Iraq aside, the Arab gulf sheikhdoms share a mutual suspicion of each other that can only be fed by the appetite for weapons displayed at Dubai last week.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The number of GP practices with 10 or more doctors has grown by 75 per cent
science
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game