US-made weapons have fallen into 'wrong hands' before, but the UAE is illegally proliferating them

US-made weapons have fallen into 'wrong hands' before, but the UAE is illegally proliferating them
Comment: The US needs to enforce end-user requirements in arms sales to the UAE, writes Paul Iddon.
7 min read
15 Jul, 2019
Libyan soldiers inspect weapons confiscated from Haftar-led forces in Gharyan, last month [AFP]]
US-made weapons supplied to the United Arab Emirates have recently begun showing up in war zones in the hands of militias. This strongly suggests that Abu Dhabi is in flagrant violation of the terms under which those weapons were sold to it.

In November 2016, Hizballah held a military parade in the Syrian town of Qusair, where they had earlier defeated Syrian opposition fighters opposed to their ally, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Images of the parade showed that Hizballah fighters possessed US-made M113 armoured personnel carriers. 

Questions quickly arose over how Hizballah had obtained these vehicles. 

Some speculated they had come from the arsenal of the Lebanese Army, a recipient of US military aid. Were this the case, US military aid to the Lebanese military could be subjected to serious scrutiny since Hizballah is designated a terrorist organisation by Washington.

Lebanon denied it, and upon investigation the US concurred that Lebanese military hardware was not being used by Hizballah. 

The M113s in question were older variants than the one in Lebanon's arsenal and likely came from the old arsenal of the South Lebanese Army (SLA), a Christian militia allied with Israel during the Lebanese Civil War which was promptly defeated by Hizballah after the Israelis withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000.

It's clear that the UAE is not safeguarding its military arsenal

Hizballah consequently acquired American-made hardware previously supplied by Israel to the SLA, likely including those M113s. 

When the US sells military hardware to a client the sale is subject to an end-user certificate, which means that the purchaser agrees not to sell the hardware to a third party without prior authorisation from Washington.

For example, in 2006 Venezuela reportedly considered selling its country's fleet of US-made F-16 fighter-bombers to Iran.

Then US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack warned the Hugo Chavez government in Caracas, that "Without the written consent of the United States, you can't transfer these defense articles, and in this case F-16s, to a third country." 

This is a condition the US invariably places on its arms clients around the world. 

"The United States is committed to expediting, when possible, defense transfers to US allies and partners, while at the same time seeking to control access to US-origin defense technologies by hostile state and non-state actors," notes the US State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

"Recipients of US-origin defense articles must agree to make items available for end-use monitoring for the life of the equipment and may not retransfer equipment to a third party without first receiving US authorisation," it added.

While Lebanon ultimately did not supply US-made M113s to Hizballah and Venezuela has not sold its F-16s to Iran or anyone else, there is some evidence indicating that one major US arms client might be violating these end-use conditions. 

In recent months, evidence has emerged suggesting that the UAE has supplied military hardware purchased from the US to third parties in active war zones, an allegation it denies.  

In late June, the Libyan National Army (LNA) militia led by General Khalifa Haftar lost control of the town of Gharyan - a major supply line south of the Libyan capital Tripoli - to their adversary, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

The LNA has been besieging and attacking Tripoli since early April, killing over 1,000 people and displacing tens-of-thousands more.

The UAE is one of the LNA's most prominent backers. 

Following the LNA's loss of Gharyan, the GNA showed journalists sophisticated American-made FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles captured from the retreating LNA, the first time these type of missiles have publicly appeared in the Libyan conflict.

The contract numbers on the missile containers 
indicated that they were part of a shipment of $103 million worth of Javelin missiles to the UAE and Oman back in July 2008.

The UAE denied that it supplied the LNA with such equipment, stressing that it abides by UN Security Council resolutions that seek to impose a complete arms embargo on war-torn Libya. 

The US had not given either the Saudis or Emiratis authorisation to supply this hardware to any other armed force

France later claimed the missiles were theirs - purchased from the US in 2010 and used by French troops in Libya. According to the French military, the missiles were defective and were being temporarily stored in a warehouse before their planned destruction. France vehemently denies that it supplied the missiles to the LNA or any other group in Libya.

It's unclear why the missiles were in an LNA frontline position in western Libya, when French troops in the North African country often operate in the predominately LNA-controlled east.

Gharyan had previously been an area used to 
store obsolete weapons, but it's unclear if France needed to have the missiles moved across the war-torn country to that particular town for destruction. Unless, of course, they were in the area covertly supporting the LNA.

It's also unclear why the missile containers had a contract number for the UAE in the first place. 

Either way, the French claim of ownership will probably leave the UAE off the hook in this case. Nevertheless, given its close support of the LNA, along with its record in Yemen, such a move on Abu Dhabi's part would not have been surprising.

On 3 July, an explosion ripped through a migrant detention centre in Tripoli killing an estimated 53 people.

The GNA 
claim that a UAE F-16 carried out the attack. The UAE previously used its warplanes to bomb Islamist factions in Tripoli back in 2014. It is also very likely to be the state that deployed armed Chinese-made Wing Loong drones to bomb Tripoli. China has little to no scruples regarding the types of weapons it sells Middle East states and how those weapons are used.

The US should investigate the extent to which its weaponry is being misused by its ally

In Yemen, there is much more compelling evidence that strongly indicates that the UAE, along with its main ally Saudi Arabia, has flouted its end-user requirements. As a result, some US-made military hardware has become the possession of both Al-Qaeda and the Houthi rebels in the country. 

This American-made weaponry in question ranges from small arms to mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles.

CNN investigation discovered that the Saudi-led coalition, of which the UAE is perhaps the most active participant, against the Houthis in Yemen had supplied Oshkosh MRAPs to the Abu Abbas Brigade, which has ties with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Both the founder of that brigade, its namesake, and, of course, AQAP are designated terrorist entities by the United States.

US-made MRAPs have also been given to other Salafi groups in Yemen. As CNN noted: "One even has the export label on it showing it was sent from Beaumont, Texas to Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, before ending up in the hands of the militia."

These examples demonstrate how the UAE is violating its end-user responsibilities.

Abu Dhabi denied this is the case, insisting that these groups are its partners in Yemen, are under its supervision and the US-supplied equipment are in the coalition's "collective possession".

The US, however, had not given either the Saudis or Emiratis authorisation to supply this hardware to any other armed force, regardless of whatever supervision the UAE claims to exercise over its Yemeni allies. 

American MRAPs have turned up in the hands of the Houthis in Yemen, the main group the Saudi-led coalition is targeting in that war-torn country. As with the SLA M113s, these MRAPs were likely sold to the Saudis and Emiratis and then supplied to friendly militias before being captured by the Houthis.

Whatever ultimately comes of this it's clear that the UAE is either not safeguarding its military arsenal, or illegally proliferating some of the worst war zones in the Middle East and North Africa with American-made weaponry. 

The US should consequently investigate the extent to which its weaponry is being misused by its ally and act in accordance with the conditions under which they were supplied in the first place.

Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, who writes about Middle East affairs.

Follow him on Twitter: @pauliddon

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.