US Senate supports Bahrain arms sale in move hailed by Anwar Gargash

UAE minister says decision reflects US priorities amid threat from Iran

Royal Bahraini Air Force F-16s perform air maneuvers during the 2018 Bahrain International Airshow (BIAS) at the Sakhir Airbase, south of the Bahraini capital Manama on November 14 2018. / AFP / STR
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The US Senate on Thursday rejected an attempt to block a $300 million (Dh1.1 billion) arms sale to Bahrain, with supporters of the deal stressing that the kingdom was a critical ally hosting an American naval base.

The attempt to stop the sale was led by Republican Senator Rand Paul, an opponent of the war in Yemen, on the grounds of Bahrain's involvement in the Arab Coalition supporting the government against Iran-backed rebels.

Critics of the bill to block the sale said punishment of Bahrain would be misplaced, especially as 7,800 US military personnel are deployed there on a base that hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which helps protect Washington's interests in the region.

"Its willingness to host our naval forces also places Bahrain at greater risk from attack from Iran and terrorist groups seeking to do harm to the United States," said Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.

The Trump administration had threatened to veto the bill if it passed the Senate, saying the sales of 120 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System pods and 110 Army Tactical Missile System pods were intended for Bahrain's defence.

"The utilisation of this ground-based system would enhance Bahrain's ability to protect itself against threats to territorial sovereignty, particularly from Iran," the White House said.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash welcomed the Senate's rejection of the bill on Twitter, saying it was "a positive sign of strategic priorities in Washington amid Iranian interventions".

Bahrain on Thursday revealed plans to also buy 12 AH-1Z Viper helicopters from US aircraft manufacturer Bell Helicopter Textron.

The $912m deal was announced by the kingdom's air force chief, Air Vice-Marshal Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah bin Al Khalifa, at the Bahrain International Air Show.

Bahrain will receive the first batch of helicopters by the end of 2022, the Bahrain News Agency reported.

Bahrain recently signed an agreement with Lockheed Martin to supply the its air force with the latest F-16 Block 70 Fighting Falcon, according to BNA, which described it as "one of the world’s most capable fourth-generation fighter aircraft".

The agency said Bahrain was the first nation to procure the new configuration of the Fighting Falcon.


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