Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced four joint resolutions to block up to $23 billion in Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
On Nov. 10, the State Department approved the proposed sales, which include $10.4 billion for 50 F-35A Lockheed Martin [LMT] Joint Strike Fighters and 54 Raytheon Technologies’ [RTX] Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines; $10 billion for a variety of munitions and fuses, including 802 Raytheon AIM-120C8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), 4,000 Northrop Grumman [NOC] FMU-139 Fuze systems and 2,500 Boeing [BA] GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs (SDB); and $2.89 billion for 18 General Atomics MQ-9B Reaper drones (Defense Daily, Nov. 10).
Tony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, has expressed concerns about selling the F-35 to countries in the Middle East other than Israel, which became the first nation to request F-35s under FMS in 2010 and to receive them in 2016.
At 7:26 p.m. on Nov. 30, Murphy, a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted, “Just left the classified briefing on the proposed massive, unprecedented arms sale to UAE, including F-35s and Reaper drones.”
“Just a mind blowing number of unsettled issues and questions the [Trump] Administration couldn’t answer,” Murphy tweeted. “Hard to overstate the danger of rushing this through.”
While the administration has said that the arms sales are needed to guard against possible Iranian attacks in light of the recent rapprochement between Israel and the UAE, congressional opponents have said that the sales could spark an arms race in the Middle East and lead to the transfer of F-35 technology to China.
Lawmakers have also raised concerns about UAE’s human rights record and its growing partnership with Russia and arms buys from that country, including the Pantsir S-1 missile defense system.
A report this month by the DoD Inspector General said that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has concluded that the UAE has provided airstrikes and logistics support to the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is fighting the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The DIA also has said that the UAE may have financed Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya.
“Of particular concern are the increasing number of paramilitary forces in Libya from Russian private military companies, including the Wagner Group, which the DoS [Department of State] described as a surrogate for the Russian Ministry of Defense,” the report said. “USAFRICOM estimated that there were approximately 2,000 Wagner Group personnel in Libya during the quarter, reflecting no change from last quarter.”
“USAFRICOM estimated that there were approximately 2,000 Russian-backed Syrian fighters in Libya, also reflecting no change from last quarter,” the report said. “The DIA said that reporting on who is financing the Wagner Group’s continued presence in Libya is ‘ambiguous.’ The DIA assessed that the United Arab Emirates may provide some financing for the group’s operations.”
Countries that have provided military or other support for the LNA, according to the report, include Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Chad, Sudan, and France, which has been trying to regain influence in Libya during and since the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011.
On Oct. 30, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.,) chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced H.R. 8707, a bill to restrict sales of sophisticated arms technologies in the Middle East beyond Israel (Defense Daily, Nov. 3).
In June last year, the Senate, citing human rights concerns over the UAE’s and Saudi Arabia’s conduct in Yemen and elsewhere, voted to cancel $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE, but the body was unable to override President Trump’s veto (Defense Daily, June 19, 2019).
While lawmakers have delayed some arms sales and altered the content of them, Congress has never successfully used a joint resolution of disapproval to negate a proposed arms sale, according to the Congressional Research Service.
On Dec. 1, Human Rights Watch called for an arms embargo on the UAE. “We don’t often call for an arms embargo, but given the UAE’s unlawful airstrikes in Yemen and Libya and direct support for abusive forces in both countries, the time has come,” Andrea Prasow, HRW’s deputy Washington, D.C. director, wrote on Twitter. “Congress should halt the proposed U.S. sales and other countries should take heed.”
Sarah Holewinski, HRW’s Washington, D.C. director, said in a statement that “U.S. officials’ desire to reward the UAE for recognizing Israel should not entail complicity in unlawful deaths in Libya and Yemen.”