How the Saudis ended up with so many American weapons

How the Saudis ended up with so many American weapons
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    On August 9, 2018 a fighter jet dropped a bomb on this street in Dahyan, Yemen.
    It exploded here, near a busy marketplace.
    Killing 40 children on a school bus.
    The plane was from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
    They have conducted thousands of airstrikes in Yemen since 2015 - many aimed at civilian targets.
    This is the bomb.
    And this photo, reportedly taken after the attack, shows that the serial number - 94271
    - corresponds to a 500-pound laser-guided bomb built by the Lockheed Martin corporation.
    It was made in the United States.
    In fact, most of Saudi Arabia's weapons are.
    The US is the biggest arms dealer in the world - and Saudi Arabia is its number one customer.
    For nearly 75 years, the two countries have been strategic allies — trying to keep
    the Middle East stable for their own benefit.
    But today, the Middle East has fallen apart.
    And Saudi Arabia has been using US weapons to make it worse.
    So why does the US sell Saudi Arabia so many weapons…
    and will it ever stop?
    In 1938, a lot of it was discovered in the new country of Saudi Arabia.
    "For here are more proved and readily accessible reserves
    than in all of North and South America together."
    In 1945, US President Franklin Roosevelt made a deal with the Saudi King AbdulAziz al-Saud:
    The Saudis would provide the US with a safe, reliable source of oil and in exchange, the
    US would support and protect the Saudis.
    This was at a time when the US was making other alliances in the Middle East.
    "Oil, however. Together with its strategic location, it has made this area important in world affairs."
    But at first, US arms sales to their allies in the Middle East were limited.
    The US hoped fewer weapons
    would mean less conflict and therefore a steady supply of oil.
    But that didn't last for long.
    War broke out between Israel and these Arab States.
    in 1967.
    This put the US in an awkward situation - it had allies on both sides.
    The US ultimately decided to sell fighter jets to Israel to give them an advantage over
    the Arab states.
    But war broke out again six years later.
    This time, the US sent thousands of tons of arms to Israel .
    This outraged the Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia.
    So they struck back.
    "The oil producing countries of the Arab world decided to use their oil as a political weapon."
    These Arab states cut-off oil supplies to the US to protest their support of Israel...
    And it caused a crisis.
    The price of oil nearly quadrupled in the US.
    The cut-off ended several months later when the US brokered a peace deal between Israel and Egypt.
    But to help rebuild its relationship with its Arab allies, the US decided to sell
    them weapons.
    And the Saudis were particularly eager to buy.
    By the 1970s, oil profits had made Saudi Arabia's monarchy extraordinarily rich - and they could
    afford to buy a range of advanced weapons.
    Between 1970 and '76, US sales to Saudi Arabia skyrocketed.
    In the meantime just across the Gulf, Iran had emerged as
    another extremely strategic ally to the US.
    Like Saudi Arabia, it was a large, oil-rich country.
    But more importantly, it shared this long border with the Soviet Union - America's
    primary enemy during the Cold War.
    So, President Nixon said the US would ""sell Iran virtually any conventional weapons it
    wanted."
    Together, Saudi Arabia and Iran became America's Twin Pillars in the Middle East.
    For the US, selling them guns, bombs, planes, and tanks was a way to prevent the Soviets
    from entering the Middle East, and protect the oil supply.
    And having these countries rely on American weapons gave the US important leverage to
    dictate how and when they were used.
    It was also an important sign of trust and support between allies.
    US arms came with years of training and maintenance, so each weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, for
    example, was a long-term commitment to work together.
    This would prove to be important because Saudi Arabia and the US would soon have to rely
    even more on each other…
    In 1979, the Islamic revolution overthrew the pro-US Shah of Iran who was replaced by
    a religious leader; Ayatollah Khomeini.
    Suddenly, one of the America's twin pillars turned on it.
    The new Iran was ambitious and extremely anti-American.
    While armed with $9B worth of American-made
    weapons.
    And it was also the enemy of Saudi Arabia.
    Each saw itself as the leader of the muslim world; and started competing for influence
    in the Middle East.
    So Saudi Arabia continued to want more weapons and the US continued to sell them.
    In the meantime, the Soviet Union, which had been developing its own alliances in the Middle East
    for decades, started selling advanced weapons to countries like Iraq and Syria.
    At this point a full-scale arms race was taking place in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia
    was the biggest buyer thanks to the US.
    "I do not think it contributes towards achieving peace in the Middle East.
    And therefore I think this arms sale should be disapproved."
    These sales sparked fierce debates in the US.
    Like on June 5, 1986 when President Ronald Reagan supported the sale of 2,500 missiles
    to Saudi Arabia:
    "Our proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia will increase the Saudi's ability to withstand
    the threat from radical Arab states."
    Many in Congress were skeptical about selling more weapons in the name of defense...
    "Over the past 30 years , the US has sold over 50 billion dollars worth
    of military weapons and services to the Saudis.
    More than we've sold to any nation on Earth.
    Where are the reciprocal acts of friendship?"
    Reagan argued that the arms sales were an important part of the alliance.
    "We have had for more than 40 years now, a relationship and an agreement,
    mutual security agreement, with the Saudi Arabians.
    And it has been beneficial to both of us."
    He insisted that it was important that the US be the ones to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia…
    "First of all, look, they're gonna have arms, whether we do it or not.
    But when they have them from us, there are restrictions on their use of them; and that they
    are restricted to using them defensively.
    Or then there are things that we will do."
    "It is not a very valid argument, but I can use the same argument on drugs out in the street.
    If I don't sell drugs to someone, someone else will.
    The question is not whether someone else will, the question is whether it's right."
    Congress pushed for some changes to the deal before ultimately approving the sale.
    In fact, Congress would never fully block a foreign arms sale.
    Over the next 20 years, the strength of the US-Saudi alliance would waiver,
    but their reliance on each other never quite stopped.
    The Soviet threat vanished when the country collapsed in 1991.
    But Iraq under Saddam Hussein emerged as a new threat to both Saudi Arabia and the US.
    So the Saudis went all out.
    In 1993, the US and Saudi Arabia agreed on a record number of arms sales.
    But arms sales decreased during the late 1990s and hit rock-bottom after the 9/11 attacks
    - 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
    Two years later, the US launched a war in Iraq and threw the Middle East into chaos.
    It turned to Saudi Arabia as a partner and
    arms sales started increasing again.
    Over the next decade, the Middle East continued to fall apart...
    And Iran took advantage of the chaos by supporting militant groups in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq
    - turning these conflicts into proxy wars.
    To the US, this is Iran destabilizing the Middle East, but to the Saudis, this is
    Iran closing in on them.
    So Saudi Arabia started using its weapons - aggressively.
    Along with a coalition of allies, Saudi Arabia intervened in a civil war in Yemen's civil war in 2015.
    The Saudis claimed they wanted to restore the government, but only made the conflict worse.
    Iran stepped in to support the rebels, turning Yemen into a proxy war.
    The Saudi's aggressive tactics have created the worst humanitarian
    crisis in the world.
    Out of nearly 16,000 airstrikes since 2015, the Saudi-coalition has hit civilian targets
    a third of the time.
    Most estimates put the civilian death toll well over 10,000.
    The UN has found that many of the civilian attacks were intentional
    and could be considered war crimes.
    The problem is the US has continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia this whole time.
    In fact, the Obama Administration approved the most arms sales to the Saudis in US history.
    These included not just new weapons, but also replacements for weapons used or damaged in
    Yemen.
    Including this bomb: likely sold to Saudi Arabia in 2015 and dropped on a school bus
    in 2018.
    "$3 billion dollars, $533 million dollars, $525 million dollars.
    That's peanuts for you."
    While the Trump administration focuses on the economic benefits of selling weapons, it
    misses the real point: Decades of arming Saudi Arabia was supposed
    to give the US some leverage over it.
    But that's clearly not working.
    Saudi Arabia's leader - Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is accused of ordering the brutal
    murder of a US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    And it's sparked historic resistance to the US-Saudi relationship…
    "I will not support arms sales until all responsible
    for the death of Mr. Khashoggi have been brought to justice."
    And I will no longer support the war in Yemen as constructed."
    "The bombing of a school bus full of children and other civilian targets
    is not something I want America's fingerprints on."
    So will the US actually stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia?
    It's a difficult question. The Middle East is more unstable than ever.
    After 75 years, Saudi Arabia and the US still need each other.
    But it's clearly not a trustworthy alliance anymore.
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