On Tuesday night, the Senate overwhelmingly voted down a resolution that would have blocked a $650 million sale of air-to-air missiles, missile launchers, and other related equipment to Saudi Arabia.
In a vote of 30 to 67, the Senate killed the resolution that was led by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The three senators are opposed to the sale because it will support the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Ahead of the vote, the White House released a statement that said it “strongly opposes” the effort to block the deal. Earlier this year, President Biden vowed to end support for Riyadh’s “offensive” operations in Yemen. But the US is still servicing Saudi warplanes that are bombing Yemen, and the arms sale is another sign of continued support for the war.
The White House claimed the missiles are “defensive” in nature because they are air-to-air and used to shoot down Houthis drones. But as Senator Paul pointed out in an op-ed for The American Conservative, the Saudis are enforcing an air, land, and sea blockade on Yemen, and the missiles can be used to prevent food from coming into the country.
Paul wrote: “According to William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy, ‘the air blockade is enforced by a threat to shoot down any aircraft, military or civilian, that enters Yemeni air space with the goal of landing at Sanaa airport. The provision of air-to-air missiles gives further credibility to this threat, dissuading any government or aid group from bringing in crucial medicines or flying patients in and out of Yemen.’ In other words, no weapon is exclusively defensive and continued American arm sales means continued death and starvation in Yemen.”
The principal contractor for the missile deal is Raytheon, the former employer of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Besides the missile sale, the Biden administration also recently approved a $500 million deal to service Saudi helicopters, including Apache and Black Hawk attack helicopters.
In recent months, the war in Yemen has been raging, and Saudi airstrikes have been pounding the country, which is reflected by massive casualties. In November, the Houthis said 15,000 of their fighters had been killed around the city of Maarib since June. The UN estimates that by the end of this year, 377,000 people will have been killed by the war. More than half of those deaths will be caused by preventable disease and starvation caused by the US-backed Saudi-led siege on the country.