The Trump administration is pushing new arms deals for key allies in the Middle East, amid Congressional resistance.
On May 24, 2019, the U.S. State Department formally announced the approval of a number of potential arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Jordan. In a statement provided to the U.S. Congress, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the deals – 22 potential sales worth a combined $8.1 billion – “will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Of the 22 proposed deals, seven have been announced by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Three of these potential contracts (estimated value: $2.7 billion) were for Saudi Arabia, while the other four ($1.2 billion) were for the United Arab Emirates.
The sales to Saudi Arabia focus on sustainment of its existing inventory. Under the potential deals, “Equipment and spares will be procured for support of, but not limited to, F-5, F-15, KA-350, C-130, KC-130, E-3, RE-3, and KE-3 aircraft.” Other possible sales to the kingdom include support for Saudi Arabia’s Tactical Air Surveillance System aircraft program.
For the UAE, the U.S. has approved Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems II All-Up-Rounds, to “provide the UAE with flexibility in the use of proportional, precision fires when operating in remote and mountainous regions as well as populated areas.” The U.S. also approved a sale of Javelin missiles and RQ-21A unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as training for the country’s Presidential Guard.”
In order to approve the sales, the Trump administration had to circumvent holds placed on the deals by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) as well as other lawmakers in Congress. The State Department asserted “that an emergency exists,” enabling the department to waive Congressional review requirements as mandated under the Arms Export Control Act’s Section 36(b). In recent weeks, tension has mounted between the U.S. and Iran, which is a rival of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. A number of oil tankers have been attacked by an unknown actor off the coast of Fujairah, UAE.
The Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah, a recipient of Iranian support, has stepped up cross-border attacks on infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. The group also released new footage showing an attack – previously claimed – on Abu Dhabi International Airport in 2018.
However, there has been bipartisan concern in Congress about whether the arms being provided to Saudi Arabia and the UAE – where the two countries are conducting a military campaign to oust Ansar Allah from the capital city Sana’a – are enabling war crimes in Yemen. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have rejected accusations of humanitarian abuses in the war.
Lawmakers have in particular expressed skepticism of the administration’s claims that the provision of precision weapons reduces civilian casualties as the more-accurate weapons can be used in place of less-accurate “dumb” munitions.