Senate defeats move to block Biden's arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Senators who tried to stop deal with Riyadh under Donald Trump have sided with US administration on latest proposal

The Joint Forces Command of the "Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen" publishes a set of photos of the remains of Houthi drones, which the coalition announced intercepting and destroying yesterday. @SPAregions

The Senate on Tuesday failed to block President Joe Biden’s proposed $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Several key senators who supported blocking other sales to Riyadh under former president Donald Trump threw their support behind the White House this time.

Senators voted 30-67 against a bipartisan resolution introduced by Republican Rand Paul to block the sale, which the Biden administration says will be used to replenish Saudi Arabia’s stock of medium-range, air-to-air missiles used to intercept Houthi drone attacks.

A Saudi-backed coalition has battling the Iran-backed rebels since 2015 after a request from the internationally recognised Yemeni government.

Mr Paul's failed efforts to stop the sale were joined by independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Republican Mike Lee and a handful of other Democrats.

Mr Biden halted the Trump administration's sale shortly after taking office when he vowed to end military support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

But the Biden administration proposed a much smaller sale to replenish Saudi missile stocks, classifying it as defensive, which convinced two key senators to support the transaction despite them leading efforts to block weapons for Riyadh under Mr Trump.

“This looks to me like a traditional defensive sale and these weapons are used in part to shoot down drones that are launched into Saudi territory from Yemen,” Chris Murphy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Middle East panel, told The National.

Iran has stepped up its supply of drones and missiles to the Houthis in recent years, allowing the rebels to launch attacks similar to those used by Tehran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Young, the top Republican on the Middle East panel, echoed Mr Murphy’s assessment despite joining Mr Murphy in the tussle over Mr Trump’s 2019 sale.

“The circumstances have changed considerably,” Mr Young told The National. “We’ve seen some in the Houthi movement who have aligned themselves with the Iranians terrorising Saudis and also threatening the lives and welfare of American troops and civilians in the country as well.”

The Biden administration in September also notified Congress of a separate $500m sale to maintain and service Saudi Arabia’s fleet of helicopters.

The helicopters have reportedly been used on the Saudi-Yemeni border where the Houthis have launched drone attacks into the kingdom.

Updated: December 8th 2021, 12:59 AM