To Yemenis, Trump’s Saudi Arms Deal Means More War

Trump signed a nearly $110 billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia, after the country has been accused of committing multiple war crimes in Yemen

Houthi followers burn U.S. and Israeli flags at a demonstration in Sanaa — REUTERS
May 21, 2017 at 10:20 AM ET

War-battered Yemenis fear that President Donald Trump’s agreement to a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia will cause an escalation of the Saudis’ brutal conflict against their country, during which the Saudis have allegedly targeted civilians and set the stage for a dire humanitarian crisis.

“America is whispering into the souls of its agents that they need to break the great Yemeni state, as they are bogged down in the swamp of humiliation and defeat,” tweeted a Yemeni activist who goes by Ammal Hamli, and who identifies as a supporter of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel group against whom the Saudis are battling.

Trump signed the agreement with his royal Saudi counterpart King Salman on Saturday. It will include the transfer of laser-guided bombs, missile defense systems with several batteries, and combat vehicles, according to Reuters. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the deal was necessary to counter “Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia’s borders.”

Trump spoke of “hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs. So I would like to thank all of the people of Saudi Arabia.”

As he was feted in the Saudi capital of Riyadh with medals of honor and a multi-story portrait, Trump spoke of American unity with its Sunni Gulf allies in the face of Islamic terror. Trump did not address the Saudi-led war on Yemen that has killed 13,000 civilians and injured more than 40,000, according to the UN.

“The scars of unlawful airstrikes can be found across Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition has carried out scores of attacks that hit homes, schools, markets, and hospitals since March 2015,” said Kristine Beckerle, the Yemen and Kuwait Researcher for Human Rights Watch.

That organization has documented 81 apparently unlawful Saudi-backed attacks over the more than two years of conflict, including numerous possible war crimes. In almost two dozen of those cases, Human Rights Watch found the use of U.S weapons.

Caption: A cow covered in the Saudi flag, ready to be milked by Trump.

On Saturday, thousands of Houthi supporters chanted “No to American terror on Yemen” in the capital of Sanaa. But across the political spectrum, there was deep suspicion that the U.S. was giving the Saudi kingdom the green light in its war on Yemen.

“Trump’s idea to counter Iran: Form a Saudi-led Arab NATO. Sell Arab NATO $300B worth of U.S weapons. Get Arab Nato to fight Iran. Are you Arabs this stupid?,” tweeted the prominent Yemeni activist Haykal Bafana.

In Decemberthe Obama administration suspended the sale of nearly $400 million in weapons to Saudi Arabia after the Saudi-led coalition bombed a funeral hall in Sanaa, killing more than 140 people.

Human rights activists have reported that after the funeral bombing, unlawful airstrikes continued in Yemen, bringing one of the region’s poorest countries to the brink of famine. Degraded water systems there means a resurgent cholera outbreak is now spreading like wildfire, expected to reach up to 30,000 cases in the next six months.

“Seven million people face starvation, and cholera ravages parts of the country,” said Beckerle, the researcher from Human Rights Watch.

She added that the Americans should “shift course by abiding by the laws of war and holding those responsible for past abuses to account. [But instead of that, Trump] will effectively be telling them to continue as before and not to worry – the flow of U.S weapons will not stop.”