The Biden administration’s new $ 500 million military contract with Saudi Arabia contradicts the spirit of White House public policy to prohibit all sales of “offensive” weapons to the kingdom for use against them. Houthis in Yemen, critics of the deal said.
The military contract will allow Saudi Arabia to maintain its fleet of attack helicopters despite their previous use in operations in Yemen.
The administration’s decision to end so-called “offensive” weapons against Saudi Arabia was one of Joe Biden’s earliest foreign policy objectives, and reflected what the US president called his commitment to “end. any support “for a war which had created” a humanitarian crisis and strategic catastrophe “.
Saudi Arabia has been authorized by the State Department to enter into a contract to support the Apache helicopter fleet, the Blackhawks and a future Chinook helicopter fleet of the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command. It includes the training and service of 350 US contractors for the next two years, as well as two US government employees. The deal was first announced in September.
“In my opinion, this is a direct contradiction to the policy of the administration. This equipment can absolutely be used in offensive operations, so I find that particularly disturbing, ”said Seth Binder, advocacy director for the Middle East Democracy Project.
The decision to approve the military maintenance contract comes as the Biden administration appears to be softening its approach to the kingdom, with several high-level meetings between senior administration officials and their Saudi counterparts.
Experts studying the conflict in Yemen and the use of weapons by Saudi Arabia and its allies say they believe the Apache attack helicopters were mainly deployed along the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. They also say it is difficult to identify the specific violations of international humanitarian law that occurred as a result of the Saudis’ use of the Apaches, in part because such detailed data is scarce and difficult to verify.
The Saudi-led coalition’s internal investigative body, known as the Joint Incident Assessment Team (Jiat), exonerates member governments from legal responsibility in the vast majority of incidents. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are the only countries in the coalition with Apache fleets.
The deadliest violation of international humanitarian law involving the documented use of an Apache occurred in March 2017, when 42 Somali refugees fleeing Yemen for Port Sudan, and a Yemeni civilian, were killed after their boat sank been hit by a missile from a coalition warship, then gunfire from an Apache helicopter.
A September 2017 report from AirForces Monthly magazine indicates that five Saudi-operated Apache helicopters were lost in Yemen, strongly suggesting that they were used in offensive operations.
Tony Wilson, founder and director of the Security Force Monitor project at Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, said it was difficult to see how the military helicopter maintenance agreement would not support Saudi military operations in Yemen.
Michael Knights, a member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he believed Apaches were used in what he described as “defensive missions” along the Yemeni border, and therefore the sale of the contract. maintenance was not contrary to White. The public position of the House. He said the move likely reflected the recognition by the Biden administration that a Saudi defeat against the Houthis, who had received support from Iran, would send a “negative message.”
When asked if the administration had looked into the Saudis’ use of the Apaches prior to the contract being concluded, a State Department spokesperson said he had “closely examined all allegations of human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law ”, including those associated with Saudi Arabia. led coalition.
The department said it concluded that the “overwhelming majority” of incidents were caused by air-to-ground munitions from fixed-wing aircraft, which led the administration to suspend two deliveries of pending air-to-ground munitions.
The State Department spokesman said Biden had said from the early days of his presidency that the United States would work with Saudi Arabia “to help strengthen its defenses, as demanded by the growing number of Houthi attacks on Saudi territory ”.
“This proposal for continued maintenance support services helps Saudi Arabia maintain its self-defense capabilities to face current and future threats. These policies are closely linked to President Biden’s directive to revitalize US diplomacy in support of the UN-led process to achieve a political settlement and end the war in Yemen, ”the spokesperson said.
But other experts said the $ 500 million contract represented a separate change from the White House, and was a sign that Biden has largely abandoned a campaign pledge to turn Prince Mohammed’s regime into an “outcast.”
“Many experts will tell you that there is no difference between defensive and offensive weapons. And so I think making that differentiation from the start was a deliberate attempt to create leeway to continue military cooperation, ”said Yasmine Farouk, scholar at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“When he first came to the White House, they kept his story on reviewing arms sales until that sale took place,” Farouk added.
While the United States is engaged in negotiations, Seth Binder said, their efforts have so far been unsuccessful. “They have not been able to change the dynamics on the ground or the calculation of the main players. “
Experts are also increasingly concerned about the lack of accountability for human rights violations after Bahrain, Russia and other members of the UN Human Rights Council voted in favor. end the agency’s investigations into war crimes in Yemen.
Investigators have previously said possible war crimes have been committed by all parties to the conflict.
A person familiar with the matter said it became clear about a week before the vote that the resolution extending the work of the so-called Panel of Eminent Experts (EGE), as investigators are known, was in trouble.
Bahrain, the person said, led the campaign against the renewal, and a decision by Japan to abstain from the vote was ultimately “what really killed him,” the person said.
“What this has done is send the message that once again, in the context of Yemen, the Saudi and Gulf states enjoy immunity and protection in terms of collective responsibility for matters ‘has happened in the past seven years,’ the person said.
“Our job was to remind the parties of the war that you can’t just do these kinds of things without consequences. Now that voice is gone.
A State Department spokesperson said the United States was deeply disappointed that the Human Rights Council did not renew the EGE’s mandate for Yemen.