The Risk Of The Arms Deals Between Arab Gulf States And The US

The Middle East has been suffering from violence during last decades. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were followed by social protests (known as the Arab Spring), that, in the case of Syria and Yemen, evolved into cruel civil wars. These new conflicts were deepened by the participation of external actors. In Syria, the role played by ISIS and the involvement of other countries such as the US, Russia, Turkey, Israel and Iran has turned the civil war into a conflict with international impact. The conflict in Yemen has also been shaped by third parts. The traditional regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, among other countries, have participated supporting, directly and indirectly, the Shias and Sunnis combatants respectively. Meanwhile, ISIS and a branch of Al-Qaeda have taken advantage of the chaos acquiring territory in the south of the country, causing more damage and harm to the Yemeni civilian population.

Even though both conflicts have caused a profound humanitarian crisis and thousands of civilian casualties, they seem far from over. During the visit of President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia, a $110 billion arms deal was announced.  The deal considers the sale to Saudi Arabia of Blackhawk combat helicopters, precision-guided air-to-ground missiles, and new cyber-warfare capabilities, like the US Hi-tech THAAD missile defence—now being deployed in South Korea. During his presidency, Obama had withheld the sale of precision missiles because of the concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the Saudi participation. However, Republican Senator John McCain showed the position of the new US Government towards the conflict and stated that “the Saudis are in a war in Yemen and they need weapons. You want to win, you need weapons.”

Despite the diplomatic tensions with its allies, Qatar has also benefited recently from the US military ‘support.’ In the last weeks, Saudi Arabia and at least other five Arab countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, in what has been called the worst rift among Gulf Arab states in years. Qatar was accused of financing terrorist groups causing regional unrest. However, even though President Trump echoed the accusations, the US and Qatar signed a $12 billion deal to sell to the Arab country F-15 fighter jets. A Qatari official in Doha pointed to the news agency Reuters that “This is of course proof that the US institutions are with us but we have never doubted that” and added that “America’s support for Qatar is deep-rooted and not easily influenced by political changes.” The US Defence Secretary and the Qatari Defence Minister has also recently discussed the operations against ISIS, while military forces of both countries have developed joint exercises at the port of Hamad in Qatar.

In June of 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo by a terrorist group, known as Black Hand, triggering WWI. Beyond the particular political context and the differences between 1914 and today, this event shows how the action of a Non-state actor can impact dramatically the relationship between states. The Middle East is one of the most unstable regions in the world. The action of ISIS has prolonged the conflicts in Syria and Yemen and has risen tensions, not only between traditionally opposed regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Iran but also between traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As the most powerful country in the world, the US has an important responsibility in bringing the conflicts in the region to an end. Despite the fact that violence has not been the answer to the problems of the people in Syria and Yemen, with the last arm deals, it seems that Washington has chosen the military way to find peace in the region. The world must be aware. ISIS can trigger a major conflict between well-armed countries in the Middle East with its next terrorist attack, just like the Black Hand did in 1914.

Diego Cardona T.