The Saudi coalition war against Houthi rebels in Yemen has witnessed an uptick in intensity this past week and month, with the Houthis on Saturday saying they've launched several missile attacks on Saudi bases and oil refineries in the kingdom's south.
The timing is interesting given the Biden White House's recently announced plans to transfer at least $650 more in weaponry to Riyadh, despite prior Biden pledges to help end the war in Yemen. Specifically the proposed sale involves what's being dubiously dubbed "defensive" air-to-air missiles or AMRAAMs, as well as 596 LAU-128 missile rail launchers (MRLs).
This week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has been leading the charge seeking to kill the large missile sale to the Saudis. His office told the foreign policy D.C.-based think tanks Responsible Statecraft that "A message needs to be sent to Saudi Arabia that we don’t approve of their war in Yemen."
"By participating in this sale, we would not only be rewarding reprehensible behavior but also exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen," Sen. Paul said. To be successful in stopping the sale he'll have to get Democrats on board.
On Thursday he was joined by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in introducing a resolution to block the transfer, which argues that Saudi war crimes in Yemen prevent the US from legally doing so. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) had already days prior introduced a similar resolution, "It is simply unconscionable to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia while they continue to slaughter innocent people and starve millions in Yemen, kill and torture dissidents, and support modern-day slavery," she had said.
A report by Responsible Statecraft noted that the Congressional and legal debate will likely hinge on whether the weapons are indeed "defensive" or "offensive" - with the latter being what Paul and others have emphasized:
Other comments speak to what could be the sticking point for many others — the difference between "offensive" and "defensive" weapons. At the beginning of his term, President Biden pledged to end all assistance to Riyadh for its "offensive" operations in Yemen. In the months since, analysts have scratched their heads over what that really means and whether the administration would find loopholes through which to drive new arms sales to Saudi Arabia anyway (there is one, approved by the Trump administration, still on hold).
What's been described as the "forgotten war" in Yemen has raged since 2015, with for much of that period the Pentagon providing direct assistance to Saudi-UAE coalition airstrikes against Yemeni Houthi rebels backed by Iran.
Biden’s $500m Saudi deal contradicts Biden’s promises on ‘offensive’ weapons used in Yemen war, critics say https://t.co/7felTjmlt3— Jon Rainwater (@jonrainwater) October 28, 2021
Prior US involvement in the Saudi-waged war grew increasingly controversial, given the high civilian death toll - amid a total estimated death toll of over 130,000 Yemenis killed.
Though it does appear that over the last two years the Pentagon has moved away from active or direct involvement in executing airstrikes, the US has still provided the Saudi-UAE coalition with the bulk of the military equipment (and training). Sen. Paul's resolution is seeking to shut down the US-Saudi war machine in Yemen entirely - however, hawks say that such a move will only strengthen Iran, given Tehran's covert support to the Shia Houthis.