Boris Johnson has decided that he doesn't like "puppeteering." Or rather, he doesn't like it when Saudi Arabia does it. He also spoke out about the "proxy wars" that Saudi is waging – with the weapons we've sold them.

And he went further, appearing to call for a secular republic to be established in the land of Islam when he criticised the kingdom for "using religion to further their own political objectives."

Saudi-bashing is, of course, a national past-time. It is comforting to believe the fantasy peddled by US-based British columnist and former MP Louise Mensch on national TV last night that Saudi Arabia is "Isis with an embassy." We all prefer a bad guy we can identify and locate – at least then we would know where to send our letters of complaint.

Johnson's defenders claim that he was speaking as a candid friend. But candid friends do not trash talk you a few days before coming to visit, and certainly not in public. His identical criticism of Iran didn't generate as many headlines; British interaction with these two Gulf nations differs dramatically.

Let's focus on the friendship rather than the candour. Saudi ally Bahrain recently gifted us a £30m ($37m) naval base. And our relationship with Saudi Arabia allowed Britain to pull off the biggest arms deal in history, which could add up to £83bn. In return, we get 600,000 barrels of oil a day. The other options are: politely ask Putin for some of his oil, or force every Brit to cycle to work by Royal decree.

This is, of course, an unpalatably pragmatic argument. Surely our foreign policy (and our relationship with Saudi) should be about more than oil? Yes, it should. And it is. It is also about keeping our citizens – and the world – safe. The reality is that transactional relationships such as this ensure a path to security because both sides benefit.

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Last year David Cameron broke with tradition to confirm that a single tip-off from our Saudi friends saved "hundreds of lives here in the UK." And in 2010, Saudi intelligence stopped "a second 9/11" when they averted the cargo planes bomb plot, where they helped us find one bomb-laden plane in Dubai, and another at East Midlands Airport.

Another break with tradition is that Saudi Arabia is reforming. In July they sent a semi-official delegation to Israel (a very big deal) and just last month, Prince Waleed Bin Talal said it is "high time" women were allowed to drive in Saudi (also a very big deal).

Every step the Saudi government takes in the right direction will be carefully scrutinised by Muslim ultra-conservatives at home and around the world. These steps will become strides when we walk with them.

None of this means that Saudi Arabia is perfect. But then who is? Johnson doesn't seem to have any qualms about the Department for International Trade touting for British investment in Burma, where the Malaysian Prime Minister has accused the government of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim population.

Either we engage proactively with the world, warts and all, or for the sake of our sense of Anglo-Saxon imperial moral superiority, we only do business with Switzerland – and only after they've reformed their laws on financial transparency and reversed their ban on Minarets.

Saudi Arabia is trying to protect their territory and prevent a schism in the land of Islam that could unleash global destructive forces the likes of which we have never seen.

But of course, there is Yemen. I am, as are many, moved to tears by the images of skeletal Yemeni children. Children who have been deprived of two of our planet's most valuable resources: food (owing to the Iran-backed terrorist insurgency in their country), and column inches (because of the world's singular focus on Syria).

But this is not Saudi's doing. Let me give you a sample of what they're up against: "God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam." That is the official slogan of the Houthi terrorists who have deposed the internationally recognised government of Yemen, and freely wander across Yemen's porous border with Saudi Arabia to conduct terrorist attacks within spitting distance of Mecca.

We should be vigilant about any irresponsible use of British arms. But Saudi Arabia is intervening not because of a neocon interventionist ideology. They are simply trying to protect their territory and prevent a schism in the land of Islam that could unleash global destructive forces the likes of which we have never seen.

And they are doing it with our weapons. And we are driving to work with their oil. And we wake up every day to a world that is painfully imperfect but mostly safe and stable, despite Trump, Putin and Farage's best efforts.

If this is "puppeteering", then I pray that we never see the alternative. Boris has already indulged in Brexit – this is no time for Saudi-xit.


Muddassar Ahmed is Managing Partner of Unitas Communications Ltd, a cross-cultural communications company.

*The headline to this article was changed on 9/12/2016