Senators Switched Key Votes On Gulf Arms Ban Hours After Tanker Attacks

A brief report from AntiWar.com's Eric Garris suggests Thursday's tanker attack incident in the Gulf of Oman which the United States promptly blamed on Iran has directly impacted bills placed before the Senate which would ban US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar.

Garris wrote of the vote which came hours after the Gulf tankers incident: "Both votes were considered highly likely to pass up until they were rushed to the floor today. The timing appears almost certainly to have been related to Thursday tanker bombings in the Gulf of Oman, and shifted a number of Senators’ votes in favor of continuing the arms sales." He noted that "some senators switched sides to kill the bills" following news of the tanker attacks.

Sen. Rand Paul has led the fight to ban US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies. Image source: Getty

The vote, according to Defense News, indeed came very close:

The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected Sen. Rand Paul’s measures to block sales of munitions to Bahrain and Boeing AH–64E Apache helicopters to Qatar.

The vote on Bahrain was 43-56 and Qatar 42-57, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., announced their opposition Thursday. The White House earlier this week threatened to veto the measures.

The Kentucky Republican and prominent Libertarian argued passionately that the US should not be supporting authoritarian governments who are known backers of extremists and who are conducting mass atrocities in Yemen. Sen. Paul has repeatedly called on Congress and the White House to "stop arming radical jihadism".

“Dumping more weapons into the Middle East won’t get us any closer to peace,” Paul said. “A ‘yes’ vote today is a vote for sanity. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote to quit sending arms to people who abuse human rights.”

Paul especially targeted Saudi Arabia in his floor remarks, according to Defense News:

“What are they doing with all the weapons we give them? They’re bombing civilians in Yemen,” he said. “They have been using our bombs and up until recently they were refueling their bombers with our planes. We’ve got no business in the war in Yemen. Congress never voted on it. It is unauthorized, it is unconstitutional and we have no business aiding the Saudis in this massacre.”

Meanwhile the White House has defended its threat to veto on the grounds that such gulf nations remain crucial "security partners" and places where US troops and naval assets are stationed. 

The idea of a block on US arms sales to Saudi Arabia — though long a little noted project of libertarians and non-interventionists  gained unprecedented momentum and visibility following last year's brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit team at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul. 

The Front Altair oil tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. AP Photo/ISNA

However, at a moment the push to block arms to despotic gulf nations was gaining broad public support, the new flare-up in the Persian Gulf based on Thursday's mysterious twin tanker attacks has likely now caused such efforts to be shelved for the foreseeable future