U.S. Approves Sale of over 130 Tanks to Saudi Arabia

U.S. M1A2 Abrams tank moves to firing positions during joint military exercises at the Vaziani military base outside Tbilisi, Georgia, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. About 1,300 U.S., British and Georgian troops conducted joint exercises aimed at training the former Soviet republic's military for participation in the NATO Response Force. (AP …
AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov

Despite human rights complaints against Saudi Arabia over its military campaign in Yemen, the U.S. State Department has approved a $1.15 billion sale of military equipment to the Kingdom, including over 130 Abrams battle tanks.

“This sale will increase the Royal Saudi Land Force’s (RSLF) interoperability with U.S. forces and conveys U.S. commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security and armed forces modernization,” said the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, as quoted by Reuters.

“Lawmakers have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare,” Reuters writes. However, the report notes that Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has been critical of arms sales to the Saudis, citing concerns about civilian casualties, and the Saudis’ preference for fighting Iranian proxies in Yemen instead of ISIS.

Peace talks brokered in Yemen by the United Nations apparently fell apart this week as Saudi Arabia resumed bombing the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. One of the airstrikes reportedly struck a potato chip factory, killing nine civilians.

“The Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen has been devastating for civilians. The U.S. should be suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, not approving more,” complained Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch.

Deutsche Welle notes the U.S. State Department has said it was “very concerned” about civilian casualties, including the potato chip factory bombing, but “did not directly comment over concerns US weapons being sent to Saudi Arabia could be used against civilians in Yemen.”

Marcus Weisgerber at Defense One argues that the sale of so many tanks to Saudi Arabia — he puts the total at 153 — exposes heavy Saudi losses in Yemen as 20 of those tanks are designated as “battle damage replacements” for vehicles lost in combat. Also included in the sale are 20 recovery vehicles, designed to repair damaged tanks on the battlefield.

“While the secretive Saudi government has not formally disclosed its battle losses from its 16-month involvement with its neighbor’s civil war, videos posted on YouTube purport to show rebels blowing up Abrams tanks with Iranian-made rockets. A year ago, Houthi fighters reportedly destroyed two Saudi Abrams and captured others. In February, Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency reported that five more tanks had been destroyed,” Weisgerber writes.