Trump Ready to Sell More Weapons to the Middle East

Yemen's capital city Sana'a
Yemen's capital city Sana'a after an airstrike. Photo credit: Ibrahem Qasim.
Yemen's capital city Sana'a
Yemen’s capital city Sana’a after an airstrike. Photo credit: Ibrahem Qasim.

People familiar with the matter say president Donald Trump is ready to approve a plan to supply Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with more weapons even though former President Obama blocked the measure in his last months in office. At the time, Obama administration cited human rights violations in both Middle East countries to justify its actions.

Trump administration however declined to comment on the revelations. A senior official who has direct knowledge of the arms deals said Bahrain would receive several F-16 warplanes worth billions of dollars while Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase a package of precision-guided missiles worth $300 million.

If Trump approves them, the deals will tell a lot about the new administration role in fighting the Islamic threat in the Middle East. The source noted the two countries are two key allies in the Gulf and neighbors of Iran. Though Obama blocked the transfers, the new administration will decide on whether to resume the process. And the official thinks it is highly likely for the decision to move forward.

The Defense Department declined to issue an official statement. Nevertheless, sources in Congress agree the Trump administration could easily bypass Congress on the issue despite the Saudi-orchestrated killings of hundreds of civilians in Yemen.

Amnesty International said the Saudi forces, which were backed by the U.S. not only targeted Iran-backed fighters in neighboring Yemen. They have also “deliberately” eyed civilians and non-military locations such as mosques, hospitals, markets, and schools, Amnesty said.

Last summer, 60 U.S. representatives from both parties signed a letter to Obama urging him to postpone a $1.15 billion transfer of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The authors of the letter include Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Al Franken, and Christopher Murphy.

The bill was delayed by 71 to 27 votes as senators accused Riyadh of fueling terrorism in the region by bombing Yemen. In the end, the former administration approved the transfer to ease concerns about an imminent conflict in the Gulf because of the U.S.-backed Iran deal.

However, in his last days in office, the former president backpedaled on the deal and blocked the transfer. In December, the White House explained the bombing of Yemen by the Saudis played a major part in the change in plans.

The official who now says the transfer is about to get its final nod challenged that reasoning. The deal will benefit the U.S. gun manufacturing industry as the “smart bombs” designed to reach Saudi Arabia were produced at the Waltham, Mass.-based company “Paveway.” And Trump administration has a very pro-business view.

Still, it is not the first time, the U.S. sells precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. government supplied its Gulf ally with this technology as far back as 2008. In the meantime, the kingdom said it needed more of those smart bombs as its campaign in Yemen was not over yet. The official explained that the civilian casualties remain a reason of concern but a more “accurate” ally is a more “effective” ally and the number of causalities would likely drop.
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