With Trump, Washington authorized the sale to the Emirates of fifty F-35 fighters, becoming the first Arab country to access this type of combat aircraft. Barely a week has passed since his inauguration, but the warmth that the monarchies of the Persian Gulf have enjoyed so far seems to have vanished in the Washington offices. The new US administration has temporarily frozen billions of dollars in arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia committed in Donald Trump’s final months in the White House.
Last November, a few days after the Republican defeat, Washington authorized the sale to the Emirates of fifty F-35 fighters, thus becoming the first Arab country to access this type of combat aircraft. The transaction, worth more than 23,000 million dollars (about 19,000 million euros), is now up in the air.
The US State Department has attributed the suspension to “routine administrative action.”The measure will allow the new Democratic officials to review the operations signed by the previous administration and ensure that US arms sales meet our strategic goals of building stronger and more capable security partners. Once the contracts have been analyzed, Washington will decide whether to keep them or order their definitive cancellation.Emirates managed to close the controversial sale, criticized by human rights organizations for the country’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, after normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel last August. In addition to the fighters, it acquired 18 units of MQ-9B armed drones along with 10 billion dollars in ammunition, including 1,500 Hellfire missiles and another 800 medium-range air-to-air missiles. Saudi Arabia had also used the closing stages of the Trump presidency to close the sale of 3,000 precision-guided missiles worth $ 290 million.
The agreement was approved by the US State Department on December 29. Until now, the US administration had even circumvented congressional refusal to sell arms to the monarchies of the Persian Gulf by declaring it a matter of national emergency.
Riyadh leads the Arab coalition that since 2015 has bombed Yemen, claiming more than 100,000 lives, leaving more than four million displaced and 80% of the total population dependent on international aid. Trump had been indifferent to fueling the arms race in a region dominated by tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but, during the election campaign, Joe Biden expressed his desire to stop the sale of arms to the Saudis to try to resolve the Yemeni conflict, turned into the greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet.
The freeze on sales that Trump had boasted about is not the only measure that confirms the change in the American direction.
The new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has announced that he has also placed under review the sanctions imposed on the Shiite rebel group the Houthis on the eve of Biden’s arrival in the Oval Office, following its designation as a terrorist organization. The measure has already implied that the US Treasury Department has suspended some of the sanctions imposed against the Yemeni group and some of its transactions. The exemptions will be in effect until February 26.
Blinken accuses the movement, supported by Iran, of perpetrating serious atrocities in the country since 2014 but considers that the measures in place threaten to exacerbate the humanitarian situation. “We have witnessed a campaign led by Saudi Arabia that has also contributed to what, according to many estimates, is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, said the new head of US diplomacy before acknowledging that, although harboring “real concern” about some of the decisions taken by Riyadh, Washington will do whatever it takes to defend Saudi Arabia from attacks, including those from Yemen and the Houthis.