The catalyst for the future arms race in the Middle East will be in part driven by the sale of sophisticated US-manufactured weapons and equipment into the Middle East. The election of Joe Biden as the President-elect of the United States is an opportunity to push back on the Israel-Arab peace for arms agreements, causing two significant issues for the United States and the region now and into the future. The arms deals will further endanger civilians and US military personnel in the region through the use of more lethal military tech and the theft of technology in proxy wars in Yemen and Libya. The second is a three-party arms race for tactical and regional superiority between Israel, the Gulf Coalition, and Iran. While the Trump peace agreements are critical for regional stability between Israel, its neighbors, and in acknowledging Israel’s place as a regional power, the sale of arms to the UAE will cause an escalation of violence in the fractured and contested states; proxy wars between the Gulf and Iran. Israel will likewise seek out more advanced arms and tech to preserve its edge over the Gulf. Saudi Arabia, a close UAE ally, will seek to match the arms capabilities of the UAE. The shift of power from increased military sales will cause Iran to push for new trade deals with Russia and China to stay relevant. The planned agreement between Iran and China for trade, military, and intelligence sharing is proof of that direction. This will give the CCP a meaningful step into the Middle East, just as Russia has gained a foothold through the Syrian Civil war (and other proxy wars, i.e., Libya) and through an arms agreement with Turkey.
The Saudis and the UAE have repeatedly dropped US serial numbered bombs on civilian targets such as busses full of children and hospitals. Throughout Yemen, towns and villages have been bombed in the military campaign against the Iran-backed Houthis, resulting in one of the most significant human rights violations and war crimes of this century. The United States, through the sale of arms and military equipment to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, has attached itself with the Yemen humanitarian crisis and the war crimes committed by the Gulf Coalition. Further, arms sales into the region by the United States may escalate the conflicts and humanitarian disasters in Yemen and Libya. The arms deal to the UAE has been offered in exchange for peace deals with Israel. The military sales are used outside of US control and oversight as required by the 2019 Defense Authorization Act in a series of proxy wars between the Gulf Coalition and Iran. The use of US-manufactured tech, weapons, and equipment in an offensive capacity violates international humanitarian laws and the Arms Trade Treaty.
The United States’ image as a promoter of democracies and human rights is eroding with the repeated support of theocratic regimes in the Middle East involved with journalists’ targeted assassinations and repeated strikes on Yemen civilians. The United States ought to take a firm stance on the side of American values and democracy based on fundamental human rights over arms deals that repeatedly clash with American interests. Specifically, fueling Middle East conflict with non-defensive weapons that cause the indirect deaths of civilians and US military personnel through proxy wars fought between the Gulf Coalition and Iran. The planned sale of armed drones worth $2.9 billion will further degrade the United States’ position as a promoter of human rights while attaching the US with civilian deaths. The deal is part of a $28 billion arms sale announced by the Trump administration on November 10th, which will also see 50 prized F-35 fighter jets sold to the UAE.
The majority of Yemen’s civilian deaths have been caused by the Saudi-led air campaign fueled by US aero tech and bombs. The planned deal will significantly enhance the UAE’s ability to target civilians. The United States should end the sale of arms, technology, and equipment that is no longer used for defense and deterrence by the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and the UAE are still going around the United States for other technology with Chinese UAV deals. However, the Trump administration has now offered more lethal tech and equipment to the Gulf that the Obama administration refused to sell, citing civilian deaths. The United States cannot control how its weapons and tech are used or who ends up in possession of it.
The sale of military technology, equipment, and arms to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are used against US forces in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan via theft and counter technology developed by Iran. According to a CNN report, the equipment is captured by the Iran-backed rebel group, the Houthi, and given, by the Gulf Coalition, to Islamists fighting rebels. As with the ISIL captured equipment and arms the US sold to Iraq, Iranian intelligence has captured US-made arms and equipment, which is used for counterintelligence. The seized equipment in Yemen and Iraq is exported to Iran to be studied for new counter tech to target US forces throughout the Middle East, particularly IED technology to target US MRAPs in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The United States cannot control how or who can use and obtain military equipment once it is sold in the Middle East, nor can the US government trust the UAE to uphold the international laws of use and sale of arms to non-state actors. US arms sales since 2002 total more than $197 billion; much of the sales end up in the wrong hands, leading to US deaths and mass atrocities across the global south.
The repeated arms deals to the Gulf coalition are based on the Reagan era premise of controlling how equipment is used and preventing the buyer from obtaining arms and tech elsewhere; if they don’t buy from the US, they buy from the Soviets or China. Further, the premise included the ability of the US to exert influence without sending US Troops. Trump is making the same mistake as previous administrations in continuing the sale of high tech arms and equipment into highly volatile regions worldwide; arms deal diplomacy. The most notable historical mistake was the sale of arms and tech to Iran during its war with Iraq to release US civilian hostages held in Lebanon. While it is true that if the United States refuses to sell military equipment such as armed UAVs, then the Saudis and the UAE will turn to other states. For instance, the UAE bought and used Chinese-made armed drones in Libya after the US refused the sale, leading to the death of 26 UN-backed Libyan Army cadets. Those deaths remain attached to the UAE and China rather than being a part of the US arms trade, the export of violence, Cold War legacy in the Middle East, and, more broadly, the Global South. The United States, as the most powerful democracy and exporter of liberal human rights ideology, should choose values over profit by preventing the future sale of military technology. The results of such actions could bring the Middle East into a prolonged three-party cold war-style arms race, which could greatly escalate proxy wars, humanitarian crises, and lead to further US deaths.