What a loss of US support could mean for Saudi Arabia’s war...

What a loss of US support could mean for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh. April 19, 2017. Courtesy: Department of Defense/Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia's King Salman,, right, in Riyadh on April 19, 2017. (Department of Defense/Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

Ending arms sales would be most effective in ending the conflict, but putting an end to day-to-day US support could unravel a Saudi-led coalition.

UNITED NATIONS – A day after senators advanced a bill to end American support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, let’s step back and consider the scope of U.S. involvement in the Arab world’s most devastating proxy battle.

“The U.S. role in Yemen has not been direct combat. It’s been an enabling role.”

Jeffrey Martini is a senior Middle East researcher at the RAND Corporation.

“The different functions that have been provided were a cell that helped do targeting for the Saudi air campaign, aerial refueling – although that was suspended recently – intelligence sharing and then air combat search and rescue.”

By avoiding direct strikes on Iranian-backed Houthi militants, the U.S. hopes to remain at arm’s length from the Yemen war.

That’s been tough do do as American-made weapons strike civilian targets, claiming thousands of innocent lives since 2014.

If the U.S. wants to stop the carnage in Yemen, holding up the sale of those weapons could do a lot more than stopping intelligence sharing or in-air refueling.

“Under the Obama administration there was a period when Precision-Guided Munitions were set aside, were not being delivered. And that frankly, is more impactful than some of the more niche enablers.”

Even if stopping arms sales to the Saudis is a third rail for Senators, withdrawing day-to-day U.S. cooperation in the Yemen war could have an impact.

Scott R. Anderson is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former legal adviser for Middle East policy at the State Department:

“I think the United States, if it were to reverse position on this, would kind of open the route for a lot of other governments to take a similar position who may otherwise be hesitant to do that for fear of damaging their relationship with Saudi Arabia. In other words, the United States removing support would give them a lot of political cover to do the same.”

Stay tuned. The Senate could vote on whether to formally cut off U.S. support for the Yemen war as early as next week.

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