The Trump administration is overturning another Obama-era act. In the final months of the previous administration, Obama froze weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. This was mainly due to criticisms of the human rights violations regarding the conflict with Yemen.
The Obama administration assisted Saudi Arabia with weapons, including a $1.5 billion deal selling tanks and armored trucks. Shortly before Obama left office, he halted the multi-million dollar sale on a precision-guided munitions system, citing possible war crimes as the reason.
This week the State Department announced they will resume the sale of weapons to the country. It is assumed this is to aid the Saudis in their war against Yemen and the Houthi rebels. The Houthi movement is a political faction of Shi’ite Muslims that has virtually taken over Yemen, at least the capital of Sanaa anyway.
The conflict has ousted President Mansur Hadi, who resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia. In the preceding chaos and instability, Al Qaeda stepped in and took advantage, establishing their own presence and strongholds in the country. Now the civil war between the two factions dominate the country.
With Iran backing the Houthi rebellion, Saudi Arabia, along with a coalition of forces, has stepped in. The conflict has now become an indirect war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, played out by paramilitary extremist groups. The United States is on the Saudi side. Sort of. The Saudi led airstrikes have given rise to concern. Saudi Arabia targets civilian infrastructure; places like hospitals, markets, and houses of worship, leading to unnecessary loss of life.
The most infamous incident occurred in October 2016, during a funeral in the Yemen capital of Sanaa. The funeral was for the father of the interior minister in the Houthi coup government. The funeral was bombed by Arab coalition fighter jets, killing 140 people, and wounded 500 more. The military officials in attendance were likely the main targets.
The Arab coalition has denied any involvement in the attacks. In September 2015, CBS News reported that the Saudi-led coalition troops hit a wedding party in the central area of Yemen, killing 131 innocent civilians. Many of the deaths were because the local hospital is shut down. The supply lines are cut off, leaving the region with no drugs, fuel, electricity, or staff. Patients were transported to a hospital in another town but most died on the way.
The conflict has already pushed Yemen to near famine. Saudi Arabia has cut off supply lines to the country, denying Yemen people humanitarian aid. The Independent reports a two ton shipment of medical supplies, sent by humanitarian organization Save the Children, was unable to dock and had to turn away. The ship carried medical supplies for 40,000 people, including 14,000 children. The transport had to reroute to another smaller port, delaying the shipment nearly three months. The United Nations estimates the civilian death toll to be around 100,000 in January.
Grant Pritchard, interim country director for Save the Children in Yemen, told The Independent, “These delays are killing children. Our teams are dealing with outbreaks of cholera, and children suffering from diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition. With the right medicines these are all completely treatable — but the Saudi-led coalition is stopping them getting in. They are turning aid and commercial supplies into weapons of war.”
Now Trump has committed to aid the Saudi forces in this war, and faced criticism. Supporters of the deal say Iran is doing the same or worse and we have supported their actions in Syria. The details of the deal have not been announced yet, but it is estimated Trump will pick up where Obama left off. He will most likely continue “funding a $300 million precision missile technology package for Riyadh and a multi-billion F-16 deal for Bahrain,” the Washington Times reports.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has approved the sale although it still has to be approved by the National Security Council. Congress would also be notified at that point, which could be where it will encounter resistance.
The conflict is a quagmire of political tensions involving warring Islam factions and power in the Middle East. Whether the United States can be any help is doubtful, we can barely handle our own Middle East conflicts. Then again, isn’t that the whole point? Aren’t we just delving deeper and deeper into the conflict, until we get to the bottom of it? If there ever is a bottom to this whole mess. Or until we just don’t need their oil anymore.