The Biden administration has arranged a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia which involves the transfer of 280 air-to-air missiles valued at around $650 million, according to the Pentagon. Saudi Arabia has been involved for a number of years in a proxy war in neighboring Yemen in which it is indirectly opposed by Iran, its major regional rival and the primary opponent of U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East more broadly.
Arms sale arranged with Saudis
The deal, which has not yet been fully approved, would involve the sale of AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles along with other support equipment and U.S. technical support.
Air-to-air missiles are considered as strictly defensive weaponry under the arrangement which prohibits the sale of offensive weaponry to Saudi Arabia.
The concern in giving offensive weapons to the Saudis is that these weapons may be used against civilians in Yemen, where thousands have already been killed by the civil war.
Saudi Arabian airstrikes specifically are believed to have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians in indiscriminate bombing attacks.
The United States largely withdrew offensive support for the Saudi intervention in response to these civilian causalities after Biden took office.
President Trump had earlier refused to halt arms sales or intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi military during his presidency.
Renewed cooperation with Riyadh?
The extent to which the United States has actually stopped covert support for the Saudi mission in Yemen is somewhat murky but the newest sale indicates some continued cooperation.
The civil war in Yemen has been primarily waged between Shiite Houthi rebels supported covertly by Iran and a rival government propped up by Saudi Arabia.
The conflict is seen as a proxy war because it reflects the wider division of the Middle East between Shiite Muslims championed by Iran and Sunni Muslims aligned with Saudi Arabia.
The United States has generally sided with Saudi Arabia in this regional rivalry but there are many reasons to be wary about becoming too friendly with Riyadh.
Questions remain regarding the theorized Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The country should be seen as a dubiously trustworthy friend at best.
Air-to-air missiles may not contribute directly to more civilian casualties in Yemen but the arms sale is a sign of increasing overt support for the country after an initial period of wariness from the Biden administration.