Changes in the American situations: Saudi gets first major arms deal under Biden administration

Published by: Radwa Ramdan El-Sherif

There are changes in the American situations regarding the war in Yemen. From the first moment, the Yemeni war was linked to Saudi-US relations. When Saudi Arabia led the Arab coalition in March 2015 in response to a request from Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi after the Houthi coup, the administration of former President Obama supported the Arab coalition and provided it with military, logistical and intelligence support, but after the (Operation Decisive Storm) that led to several convictions , external and internal criticism, Obama administration announced that it would suspend the sale of a range of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and reduce the level of intelligence sharing.

The American situation changed under the former Trump administration, as a comprehensive review of Obama administration policy was conducted, and before this review ended in July 2017, Trump decided to allow the sale of arms that Obama had suspended from selling to Saudi Arabia.

While under the current Biden administration, the American situation has changed again. Biden announced in his first foreign-policy speech last February, several decisions regarding America’s policy regarding the Yemen war, including; ending US support for all offensive military operations and related arms deals, and supporting UN efforts to resolve the conflict. It is reported that Biden also removed the Houthi movement from the blacklist of “terrorist organizations”, in a move welcomed and praised by the Houthis despite their continued escalation in the fighting.

However, the change in the American situation was renewed again in the same year. As the U.S. State Department approved its first major arms sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the sale of 280 air-to-air missiles valued up to $650 million, on 4th of November.

Why did America resume selling arms to Saudi Arabia?

The US State Department’s approval of a deal to sell air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia has many important indications.

Among the most important of these indications is Saudi Arabia’s strong influence in OPEC. It is noted that the missile deal coincided with the decision of OPEC and its allies to increase oil production by 400,000 barrels per day for the month of December during the OPEC meeting. The decision to maintain the increase comes as previously planned, despite recent calls from consumers led by the US to increase supplies further to calm rising prices.

Certainly, the current administration is facing a difficult economic challenge. On October 22, in a dialogue session, Biden linked the rise in fuel prices in the United States with the rise in global oil prices to record levels, in Saudi Arabia and the lack of supply from the OPEC countries, and the intensity of American borrowing increased due to the repercussions of Covid-19 since March 2020. last month, the US almost defaulted on its debt, had it not been for the US Senate’s approval of a bill raising the US public debt ceiling until early December.

Another indication is the volume of military trade between the two countries; Saudi Arabia at the top of the importers of arms from the United States, according to the report issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute(SIPRI), on arms exports and imports in the past five years. The report states that between 2016 and 2020, US arms imports into Saudi Arabia accounted for 79% of the total arms imports into Saudi Arabia.

The change in the situation also coincides with the Vienna talks to revive the nuclear agreement, which is expected to be resumed at the end of November, after the Iranian side’s procrastination. There has become a state of mistrust towards Iran regarding the negotiations, as there has been a bet by the Biden administration on the possibility of reaching a quick settlement regarding the nuclear program, although there were warnings from America’s allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia, that Iran could not be trusted.

In the end, Saudi-American relations may sometimes get tense, but in the end, they return to the normal pattern, and the relation between them will remain a strategic and important for both parties, as Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the Middle East, and of course America will benefit economically if it reassesses its relation with Saudi Arabia, especially as it realized its strength, as one of the most important actors in the global energy markets.

It is expected that the missile deal will be a step to reconsider the possibility of enhancing military support for the coalition forces in Yemen, especially with the continued progress of the Houthis in Marib and their continued fighting escalation, and their continued attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia. Of course, this step will affect the equation of the war in Yemen, but with Iran’s continued support for the Houthis, it is possible that the fighting will continue to escalate without reaching a possible settlement.

Although there are Saudi-Iranian talks to restore relations between the two countries, it requires more work and concessions to ease tensions. The regional equation between Iran and Saudi Arabia is governed by what might occur in the upcoming Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear agreement. If the talks succeed in reaching a final agreement, The equation will be different and the Saudi-Iranian consensus becomes possible in the Yemeni crisis.

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