US Senate rejects bill blocking $1.15b Saudi arms deal

US Senate rejects bill blocking $1.15b Saudi arms deal
US Senators voted 71 to 27 against a resolution aimed blocking an impending arms deal to Saudi Arabia, and pressuring the kingdom over its alleged war crimes in Yemen.
3 min read
22 September, 2016
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham argued that US arms to Saudi Arabia help counter Iran [Anadolu]

The United States Senate on Wednesday rejected a bill opposing a $1.15 billion sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, thus giving the controversial deal the green light.

Senators voted 71 to 27 against the resolution forwarded by Republican senator Rand Paul and Democratic senator Chris Murphy in an attempt to block the transaction that includes tanks, guns and other military equipment.

"People say 'no big deal we are not really at war in Yemen' – well yes we are, we are refueling Saudi bombers that are dropping bombs in Yemen," Paul said during the debate prior to the vote.

The Tenessee Republican added that US involvement in Iraq and Syria was illegal as it lacked authorisation from Congress, and described Wednesday's decision as an "indirect vote" on whether the US should be at war.

Murphy followed a similar line, arguing that US-supplied bombs are being dropped on civilians in Yemen rather than on "our sworn enemy, al-Qaeda".

The Democratic senator also said that Saudi Arabia's Yemen intervention has allowed al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group to gain a foothold in the region.

"How can you say you're serious about strangling ISIL when the textbooks that are produced inside Saudi Arabia are the very same textbooks that are handed out to recruit suicide bombers?" Murphy asked his fellow lawmakers, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.

Paul and Murphy also expressed fears that the sale may feed into a regional arms race.

Countering these arguments, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham contented that the arms deal would in fact enable the kingdom to better defeat the militants.

Additionally, he said that enhancing the oil-rich state's military would act as a counterbalance to threats from Iran.

Graham dubbed the debate as "ass backwards," saying that it should instead be about whether sanctions should be re-imposed on Iran.

"If you drive this good partner Saudi Arabia away you will one day regret it," the 61-year-old said on the Senate floor.

Wednesday's defeat for the 27 sceptics of the sale - which includes independent senator Bernie Sanders - has delivered a blow to hopes that the US will use its dealings with Saudi Arabia to hold the kingdom to account over Yemen. 

The controversial deal was announced in August by the Pentagon, after approval was secured from the State Department.

The potential sale includes over 130 Abrams battle tanks and 20 armored recovery vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

This came as scrutiny over the Kingdom's war in Yemen continued to intensify, with the Saudi-led coalition having been accused of war crimes.