For those lawmakers who oppose additional U.S. involvement militarily in the various hot spots throughout the Middle East, there is a battle looming. The Trump administration has signalled that President Trump is considering providing assistance for an offensive on a key port held by Houthi rebels in Yemen. This is in addition to increases in intelligence sharing and logistics support to the Saudi-led coalition.
President Trump is also considering allowing an arms sale to the Saudis, along with an arms sale to Bahrain, both of which had been previously blocked by the Obama administration. However, opposition to the increased involvement question whether there are U.S. interest at stake.
Yemen’s civil war started in March 2015, when Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sanaa and President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden. Saudi Arabia, concerned about Iran’s support of the Houthis, has formed a coalition in support of Hadi’s government. There have been accusations of human rights abuses on both sides. In the meantime, 3 million people have been displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.
The U.S. support has included selling billions of dollars of weapons to the Saudis, providing intelligence and helping with the coalition’s logistics, such as air refueling. But with a rising civilian death toll and increasing pressure regarding human rights from international organizations, Obama slowed that support in the final days of his presidency. Under the Trump administration, the slowing of that support is about to change.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reportedly signed off on the precision-guided munitions sale and the administration notified the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that it approved a $5 billion sale of 19 F-16 fighter jets and related equipment to Bahrain. Advocates of these actions point to Iran’s support of the Houthis.
Recently the Bahrain government has shown proof of Iran’s influence with militants in their country as well. Others are concerned that Iran is turning the Bab al-Mandab Strait into a chokepoint, as it has already attempted with the Strait of Hormuz. Senator McCain and Corker also seem to support these moves. But other argue that the U.S. needs to step out of the proxy war with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
A coalition in the House is demanding that the Trump administration provide legal justification for participating in Yemen.