Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen are escalating aggressive armed drone attacks upon civilians, facilities, and military assets within Saudi Arabia in an effort to sustain their violent stranglehold over the Yemeni population.
Citing growing concerns about the dangers to both Saudi Arabian citizens and the thousands of American citizens living in Saudi Arabia, the State Department has approved a large-scale sale of AIM-120C air-to-air defensive weapons.
The weapons would fire from Saudi Arabia’s Eurofighter Typhoon and multiple F-15 variants acquired from the United States.
“We’ve seen an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Novemeber 18, according to a story in Defense News. “Saudi AIM-120C missiles, deployed from Saudi aircraft, have been instrumental in intercepting the persistent UAS attacks on the Kingdom that also put more than 70,000 U.S. citizens living and working in Saudi Arabia at risk.”
“Islamic Republic of Iran for years has systematically supplied the Houthis with small arms, anti-tank missiles, anti-ship missiles, drones and ballistic missiles,” the op-ed writes.
Saudi Arabia has been operating the AIM-120C and recently requested to buy 280 AIM-120Cs in a deal that could go up to $650 million. The State Department has approved the sale. However, several far-left Democrats are proposing legislation to block the sale of the weapons to Saudi Arabia for humanitarian reasons, citing the growing crisis in Yemen including civilian casualties, child suffering, homelessness, and starvation.
There is a potentially troubling paradoxical dimension to this proposed legislation, however, as there are grounds for concern that blocking the sale for humanitarian reasons would in fact have the opposite effect of exacerbating the existing humanitarian crisis by leading to more civilian casualties and suffering. The apparent intent of the legislation, proposed by Rep. Ihan Omar (D-MN) is to lessen human suffering in Yemen. While reducing civilian casualties and child suffering in Yemen is a commendable and crucial objective also supported by the Biden Administration and the State Department, the proposed legislation could greatly increase violence against children and civilians while leaving Saudi Arabia far more vulnerable. The best chance of advancing humanitarian objects for Yemenis, Saudi Arabians, and Americans living in the Kingdom, lies in the continued arming of Saudi jets with defensive AIM-120Cs.
Without a credible “kinetic” defense against bomb-carrying Houthi drones, Saudi Arabia might be inclined to greatly expand and increase the intensity of offensive attacks in Yemen. More offensive strikes to offset or counter Houthi drone launches from Yemen introduces the disturbing prospect that more civilians and children will be hurt. In essence, the proposed legislation could, if enacted, subvert itself.
A UN report cited in the Defense News op-ed lends additional evidence to this concern through its documentation of the Houthis' use of human shields to “protect terrorist fighters while inviting civilian casualties that can then be blamed on Saudi Arabia.”
While the risk of exacerbating the human suffering and childhood trauma would be the most pressing risk or danger of passing the legislation, blocking the sale of AIM-120Cs to Saudi Arabia could also imperil U.S. national security interests in the region. The Defense News op-ed makes the point that, without an ability to acquire U.S.-built and exported AIM-120Cs, Saudi Arabia is quite likely to acquire weapons from Russia or China to counter and stop or intercept continued Houthi drone attacks.
There are many fighter-jet launched, air-to-ground weapons, yet Raytheon developers of the AIM-120C told The National Interest that the weapon simply would not be used in an air-to-ground strike.
“AMRAAMs are defensive weapons. They’re used in air-to-air engagements to destroy incoming drones and cruise missiles that threaten population centers and infrastructure. They cannot be used and would not be effective against ground targets,” Paul Ferraro, vice president of Air Power for Raytheon Missiles & Defense, said in a written statement to the National Interest.
Kris Osborn is a defense writer for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
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