Just as Saudi-backed forces reportedly resumed air strikes on Yemeni capital Sana’a, the United States approved a possible sale of $1.15 billion worth of battle tanks, machine guns and other military equipment to the kingdom.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner which has been and continues to be a leading contributor of political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The addition of these tanks and recovery vehicles to the (Saudi military’s) inventory will enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to support its soldiers in the field and to defend the Kingdom’s borders.”
If finalized, the deal will provide Saudi Arabia more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armored recovery vehicles, 153 machine guns, 266 7M240 machine guns, helicopters, smoke grenade launchers and other military assets — thus replenishing KSA’s losses in the Yemen war.
As Defense One reported, Saudi military has lost a significant number of Abrams tanks fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi separatists. Twenty tanks approved by the U.S. in the potential sale (built by General Dynamics Land System) are apparently “battle damage replacements” for the Saudi tanks lost in combat.
The latest bout of air strikes killed 13 Yemenis on Tuesday.
“The proposed sale will improve Saudi Arabia's capability to meet current and future threats and provide greater security for its critical infrastructure,” the report stated further. “The addition of these tanks and recovery vehicles to the RSLF’s inventory will enhance Saudi Arabia's ability to support its soldiers in the field and to defend the Kingdom’s borders. Saudi Arabia will have no difficulty absorbing these vehicles into its armed forces.”
Interestingly, it does not mention the Yemen conflict at all — despite the fact that the coalition air campaign has killed over 6,400 people, mostly civilians, since last March. It has also forced approximately 2.8 million people to flee their homes, leaving more than 80 percent of the population in dire need of humanitarian aid.
While human rights groups have condemned the airstrikes that began in March 2015, several U.S. lawmakers, from both parties, have also criticized potential sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.
Congress has 30 days to block the sale. However, it is unlikely to do so despite concerns that Saudi Arabia will use the equipment to commit further atrocities in its neighboring country.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations in June to suspend the Gulf Kingdom from the Human Rights Council until the military coalition stops killing civilians in Yemen, but nothing happened. In fact, the U.N. instead removed Saudi Arabia from children's rights blacklist.
This deal also comes at a time when the Middle Eastern country reportedly approved proposals to raise a range of government fees — including visa charges and traffic violations fines — to deal with the $100 billion budget deficit due to low oil prices.