The US State Department on December 29, 2020, approved arms sales agreements with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt. In early December, the Democrat senators failed to block the sale of F-35s aircraft as well as armed drones to the UAE. A few weeks before Trump’s withdrawal from the White House, his administration had agreed to sell arms to several countries in the West Asian region. At least five arms deals were approved by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), including bombs and related equipment worth 236 billion euros for Saudi Arabia, Apache helicopters worth 3 billion 300 million euros for Kuwait, and anti-missile equipment worth 84 million euros for Egypt, as well as aircraft targeting equipment worth 53 million euros for that country.
As alleged by the United States, those sales are “partnership to improve the security of friendly countries”, which is an important force for political stability and economic growth in the West Asian region. Arms sales were criticized in the US Congress and civil society. William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy (CIP), said “Saudi access to tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions thus far has not diminished the civilian toll in Yemen, so Pentagon claims that more accurate bombs will reduce civilian casualties don’t hold up to scrutiny.” The same is true of arms sales to Egypt, which has been involved in a series of (so-called) anti-terrorist operations in the Sinai region but has been “violent and ineffective.”
In early December 2020, despite unsuccessful opposition of Democrat senators to block the sale of F-35s aircraft to the UAE, Trump finalized the deal at the end of November. Under the agreement, 50 state-of-the-art F-35 stealth aircraft and 18 MQ-type drones worth 18 billion euros will be sold to the UAE.
Riyadh spent about 70 billion dollars on buying weapons due to the war in Yemen, which is about 9% of the country’s GDP. Since Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen in 2015, it has become the world’s largest importer of weapons. The United States is the largest exporter of weapons to Saudi Arabia, so that from 2014 to 2018 it controlled about 70% of the Saudi arms market. The State Department agreed to sell 3,000 precision-guided munition (PGMs) bombs under a 290 billion dollar deal. The arms deal includes 3,000 GBU-39 (SDB I) bombs, carrier containers, support equipment, spare parts and technical support. Newly elected President Joe Biden vowed ahead of elections to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, one of Washington’s largest customers in West Asia, to put pressure on Riyadh with an aim of ending the Yemeni war as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
These sales, which are being touted by the United States as a key strategy against Iran, have been pursued by the US following the normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel. The Emiratis have long wanted to buy those types of advanced weapons, but Israel opposed the idea because of its superior military technology.
According to statistics released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in 2019, the US military industry held control of 61% of the world’s largest arms dealers. Statistics released by the institute show that a total of 12 American companies are among the 25 largest arms manufacturers in the world.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, arms exports to West Asia have increased by 87% in the past five years and at present account for more than a third of the global arms trade. From 2014 to 2018, Saudi Arabia imported more weapons than any other country in the world, and the purchase of Saudi weapons during this period increased by 192 percent compared to 5 years ago. The United States is the world’s largest arms seller, accounting for more than half of its arms exports to West Asia between 2014 and 2018, with Saudi Arabia importing 22 percent of US military exports.
Trump’s foreign policy in West Asia has pursued three targets: to improve relations with America’s traditional allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The nuclear deal with Iran should be canceled in order to curb Tehran’s policy in the region and at the same time conclude a better nuclear deal with it and make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. US relations with allied leaders improved during his four-year term, but this was detrimental to US interests in the long run. Trump canceled the nuclear deal with Iran and imposed tough sanctions on Tehran, but in principle the result was the exact opposite of the two targets mentioned above. Admittedly, what many governments in the United States failed to do, Trump did, that is, normalization of relations of some Arab regimes with the Zionist regime. This happened today with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Many US presidents have dreamed of normalizing relations between the Arabs and Israel, but Trump was willing to make a deal and promised to sell weapons, but that is unlikely to be possible during Biden’s presidency. Like Trump, Biden may want to end the endless wars and reduce the US presence in West Asia. Saudi Arabia has learned in Yemen that the war can be started very easily, but it is very difficult to end it.
Aside from the volume of arms sales in West Asia, another issue to consider is conventional weapons sold in the region. Most American weapons in the region have been used in severe repression and human rights abuses, including in Egypt, in the Palestinian territories, and in Israeli attacks, and in recent years in the severest humanitarian catastrophe, the Saudi-led coalition invasion of Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have given US-made weapons to militants in Yemen to gain influence, and some of those weapons have fallen into the hands of extremist Salafis.
The US methods and incentives to sell arms to West Asia are more in line with building business for defense contractors than building security in West Asia. Last year, Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution ending US support for the Saudi war in Yemen, bypassed Congress and ignored the normal process of ratifying an 8 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Many cases of arms trade in West Asia have been problematic and destabilizing.