Defying the international call for an arms embargo over war crimes concerns, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced Tuesday it has approved an $11.25 billion deal to sell combat ships to Saudi Arabia, which has been waging a military assault against Yemen for more than six months.
"The selling of arms in the middle of a war will obviously send the message that the Saudis can do whatever they want and get away with it," Farea Al-Muslimi, Beirut-based Yemeni writer and visiting scholar with Carnegie Middle East Center, told Common Dreams.
The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is part of the DoD, announced Tuesday that is has rubber-stamped the export of four "Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) Ships and associated equipment, parts and logistical support for an estimated cost of $11.25 billion" to Saudi Arabia.
"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security goals of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner, which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," the U.S. agency stated.
The ships will replace older naval models, also built in the United States. While the transfer is being reported as a U.S. effort to bolster Saudi Arabia's defenses in the wake of the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, the arms sales are part of an ongoing trend. The IHS Jane's 360 report, released in March, found that Saudi Arabia was the "number one" defense trading partner with the United States in 2014.
U.S. Congress now has 30 days to block sale of the ships before the deal goes into effect. While both Lockheed and Austal Ltd. manufacture such vessels, the deal applies to the "Freedom" versions produced by Lockheed.
"The selling of arms in the middle of a war will obviously send the message that the Saudis can do whatever they want and get away with it."
—Farea Al-Muslimi, Carnegie Middle East Center
The tentative deal comes despite mounting evidence that Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners—including the United States—are responsible for widespread war crimes in Yemen.
A report released by Amnesty International earlier this month concludes: "Damning evidence of war crimes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which is armed by states including the USA, highlights the urgent need for independent, effective investigation of violations in Yemen and for the suspension of transfers of certain arms."
What's more, the announcement came just days after the U.S. Navy admitted that Saudi-led warships are enforcing a naval blockade that is "slowing" aid to Yemen, which is facing critical shortages of food, water, and life-saving medicines.
Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni activist and co-founder of Support Yemen Media, emphasized to Common Dreams that the Saudi coalition has already bombed hospitals, schools, homes, and factories, in a conflict that has killed 5,000 people, including 500 children, according to United Nations estimates.
"If what we've been seeing in Yemen is any proof," said Alwazir, "Obama's 'democracy' gift will only enable Saudi Arabia to intensify its illegal war and its heart-wrenching atrocities against the people of Yemen."