The Trump administration also authorised $290m worth of small munition sales to Saudi Arabia at the end of December of last year.
The United States is reviewing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorised by former President Donald Trump, a move that Secretary of State Antony Blinken said was “typical” of a new administration.
In his first press briefing on Wednesday, Blinken said the review aims “to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy”.
“That’s what we’re doing at this moment,” he told reporters.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration has imposed a temporary freeze on billions of dollars in weapons sales to the two countries, including the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and F-35 fighters to the UAE.
The move comes one week after Biden, who has promised to “reassess” Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, was inaugurated. Since taking office, he has signed a string of executive actions to review or reverse some of Trump’s key policies.
Trump oversaw a close-knit US relationship with both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in line with his staunch support for Israel and “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
In May 2019, the former US president declared a national emergency over tensions with Iran to sidestep objections from Congress about the sale of $8bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.
The Trump administration notified Congress in November that it had approved the sale of more than $23bn in advanced weapons systems, including F-35 fighter jets and armed drones, to the UAE.
That announcement came shortly after the Emirati government agreed to normalise relations with Israel in a US-brokered deal.
“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran,” then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement at the time.
Rights groups denounced the sale, saying it could fuel regional conflict, notably in Libya and in Yemen, where the UAE and Saudi Arabia have waged a devastating war against the country’s Houthi rebels.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers also slammed the weapons transfer, saying it would “facilitate a dangerous arms race”.
Legislators put forward bipartisan joint resolutions seeking to stop the deal, but their efforts failed in the US Senate, where two procedural votes did not gain a majority in the chamber.
Trump had threatened to veto any congressional effort to halt the sales, as well.
A 13-year conventional arms embargo on Iran has ended, but the implications for Iran and the region remain uncertain.
Despite opposition from the United States, a long-standing conventional arms embargo imposed on Iran has expired in line with the terms of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.
The 13-year ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) came to an end on Sunday as part of Resolution 2231 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an accord signed in 2015 that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
In a statement carried by state media, the Iranian foreign ministry said “as of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran … are all automatically terminated.”
The end of the embargo means Iran will legally be able to buy and sell conventional arms, including missiles, helicopters and tanks, and the Iranian foreign ministry said the country can now “procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs”.
However, Iran was self-reliant in its defense, the statement said, adding that “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s defense doctrine.
The US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, imposing waves of harsh economic sanctions on Iran. US President Donald Trump’s administration has also employed every means in its power to unravel the nuclear deal and stop the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran.
The latest came in early October when 18 Iranian banks were blacklisted, including those that process humanitarian trade transactions – effectively severing Iran’s financial sector from the global economy.
The US administration has been fervently supported in its efforts by Israel and a number of Arab countries that oppose Iran’s expanding regional influence.
In August, the US tabled a UNSC resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo, but it was rejected.
From the 14 UNSC member states, the so-called E3 of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and eight others abstained while Russia and China opposed the extension. Only the Dominican Republic supported the resolution.
After announcing the triggering of a process to “snap back” sanctions on Iran and waiting for a month, the US in September announced it has unilaterally reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of Resolution 2231.
If implemented, the move would automatically extend the arms embargo as well.
But an overwhelming majority of UNSC member states once more rejected the bid, saying no process to reinstate sanctions was started because the move had no legal basis.
The US threatened “consequences” for countries that do not adhere to its assertion but has yet to take action.
In trying to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran, the US claims the lifting of the embargo will open a floodgate of arms deals that would quickly serve to further destabilise the region.
EU embargoes on conventional arms exports and missile technology are still in place and will remain in force until 2023.
The foreign ministers of the E3 in July issued a joint statement that said while the three countries remain committed to fully implementing Resolution 2231, they believe the lifting of the arms embargo “would have major implications for regional security and stability”.
Russia and China In practice, it might take some time for Iran to be able to utilise the freedom from the embargo.
For one, relentless US sanctions have significantly restricted Iran’s ability to buy advanced systems, whose purchase and maintenance could cost billions of dollars.
Furthermore, China and Russia, or any other country pondering arms sales to Iran, would act based on their foreign policy interests, which would have to consider the balance of power and future economic interests in the Gulf and the wider region.
Iran and China have been considering a major 25-year strategic partnership deal, the details of which have yet to be published.
According to Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, the deal has already caused international scrutiny, so China, which wants to demonstrate the image of a “responsible power”, will tread carefully.
“More importantly, if [Joe] Biden is elected the new US president – which seems increasingly likely – Beijing would want to reboot the US-China relationship with a new US administration,” he told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.
In this vein, Zhao said it would be unlikely for Beijing to jeopardise the opportunity to mend ties with a Biden administration by making huge arms deals with Tehran.
As for Russia, a 2019 US Defense Intelligence Agency report speculated Iran would buy Su-30 fighters, Yak-130 trainers, T-90 tanks, Bastion mobile coastal defence missile systems, and the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems.
Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami travelled to Russia in late August to visit the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2020 and hold talks with senior Russian officials. The trip boosted speculations Iran is interested in Russian arms.
However, Nicole Grajewski, a research fellow with the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says there is no indication Russia and Iran have finalised a list of potential arms for negotiations.
“It is not totally unfounded to suggest that Russia and Iran may wait until the US presidential elections,” she told Al Jazeera. “Both sides have reasons not to antagonise Biden if he is elected: Iran with the JCPOA and Russia with New START.”
New START is an arms reduction treaty and the last existing nuclear arms control pact between Russia and the US that expires in February. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called for a one-year extension of the pact.
Moreover, Grajewski pointed out that while the Trump administration has been inconsistent in implementing provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Russia will take US sanctions into account – especially since Moscow would like to sell weapons to states that could become subject to secondary US sanctions.
But she believes financing to be the biggest impediment to a potential major Iran-Russia arms deal.
“Russia won’t be as willing as China to sell Iran weapons on barter like it did in the 1990s,” Grajewski said. “Plus, Russia doesn’t want to damage its relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel by providing Iran with high-tech or advanced weapons.”
But the researcher believes Iran and Russia may enjoy a boost in military cooperation and contacts that have increased in the past few years due to shared interests in Syria and a general improvement in bilateral relations.
“There will likely be additional military exchanges and drills in addition to an increase in efforts that promote the interoperability between the Russian and Iranian armed forces at the tactical level,” she said.
Iran’s perspective Following the implementation of the nuclear deal in 2016, Russia completed delivery of the S-300 air defence missile system to Iran, which was successfully tested by Iran in early 2017.
This finally concluded an $800m deal signed between the two states in 2007 that was left unfulfilled by Russia after multilateral sanctions pressure on Iran grew.
But by that time, a lot had changed inside Iran.
As Iranian defence expert Hossein Dalirian explains, after years of multilateral and unilateral sanctions, Iran concluded it has to rely on the expertise of its own engineers and experts to boost defence capabilities.
“With this perspective, extensive efforts were launched inside Iran to develop a diverse range of advanced arms and systems that are now produced locally, which are on par with those of developed nations, even as attested by military experts of Iran’s enemies,” he told Al Jazeera.
Among others, these include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the Bavar-373 surface-to-air missile defence system, which was officially rolled out in August 2019, and which Iran says is on par with the state-of-the-art Russian S-400 system.
However, Dalirian said, it has not been possible, or economically feasible, for Iran to produce a number of armaments, including fifth-generation fighter jets.
“Even though Iranian experts have recently achieved technological know-how to produce fighter jet parts, and built Kowsar, which is on par with fourth-generation fighter jets, it seems that purchasing fighter jets might be pursued by Iran at the same time as locally developing modern fighter jets,” he said.
Dalirian says many countries have shown interest in Iranian armaments, but have been unable to buy them due to sanctions.
“Now it remains to be seen what Iran’s enemies, specifically the US, have planned for potential buyers of Iranian arms in political terms,” he said.
A very beautiful Arab lady, Leylaa who appears to be a fan of evicted Big Brother Naija housemate, Ozoema Chukwu, popularly known as Ozo has thrown shades at his in-house love interest, Nengi and her fans over their ‘love story’ which never kicked off.
From her photos, Leylaa is very beautiful, reserved and likes to rock her hijab.
Leylaa took to micro blogging platform, Twitter to share her photos and wrote;
The question on everyone’s lips now is, does Nengi stand a chance where Leylaa is?
Decision comes after Saudi allowed first direct Israeli commercial flight to use its airspace following UAE-Israel deal.
Bahrain has said all flights to and from the United Arab Emirates can cross its airspace, a move that will allow air services between Israel and the UAE to fly over the kingdom.
Thursday’s decision, which the kingdom’s aviation authority said came at the request of the UAE, follows an agreement last month that saw the UAE becoming the third Arab country to reach a deal with Israel about normalising ties.
The US-brokered agreement, which capped years of discreet contact between the two countries in commerce and technology, was denounced by the Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause by a major Arab player, while they still lack a state of their own.
“Bahrain will allow all flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to cross its airspace,” reported the official Bahrain News Agency, citing an official source at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications.
The decision cuts flying time between the Middle East states by several hours.
Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a British naval base, has an historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two US-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa himself promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations.
Last month, an Israeli official said Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to follow the UAE in formalising ties with Israel.
But Bahraini state media reported last week that King Hamad had told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who was in Manama as part of a Middle East tour aimed at forging more links between Israel and Arab countries following the UAE-Israel deal – that the Gulf state was committed to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Earlier this week, Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, flew with a high-level Israeli delegation to the UAE on the first direct commercial passenger flight between the two countries.
While no other Arab country has yet indicated a willingness to follow the UAE, Saudi Arabia allowed the El Al charter flight carrying Kushner and the Israelis to use its airspace.
On Wednesday, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told Kushner that Doha remained committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. In the initiative, Arab nations offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
The UAE has promoted the deal as hinging on Israel halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. The deal also may allow Abu Dhabi to buy advanced weaponry from the US, including the F-35 stealth fighter jet.
Royal decree refers Prince Fahd, his son and four military officers to the anti-graft watchdog for investigation.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has sacked two royals over corruption allegations and referred them to the anti-graft watchdog for an investigation, according to state media.
In a royal decree issued early on Tuesday, King Salman removed Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as commander of joint forces in the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, and relieved his son Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd of his post as deputy governor of al-Jouf region.
The decision was based on a missive from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to Nazaha, the anti-corruption committee, to investigate “suspicious financial transactions at the defence ministry”.
Four other military officers were also placed under investigation.
The announcement marks the latest government crackdown on what officials say is endemic corruption in the kingdom.
MBS, after becoming heir to the throne in 2017 in a palace coup, launched an anti-corruption campaign that saw scores of royals, ministers and businessmen detained in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Most were released after reaching undisclosed settlements with the state.
While the crown prince has made fighting corruption a pillar of his reforms, critics say he is moving to sideline rivals to his eventual succession to the throne, take control of the country’s security apparatus and crack down on dissent.
Authorities wound down the Ritz campaign after 15 months but said the government would continue to go after graft by state employees.
In March, authorities arrested nearly 300 government officials, including military and security officers, on charges involving bribery and exploiting public office. Human Rights Watch voiced alarm over the arrests, warning of possible “unfair legal proceedings” in an opaque judicial system.
The crackdown coincided with the arrest of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a brother of King Salman, and the monarch’s nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was previously crown prince.
Family members of Saad al-Jabri, a former top intelligence agent and aide to bin Nayef, have also been swept up in the campaign. Al-Jabri, who lives in exile in Canada, recently filed a lawsuit in the United States accusing MBS of sending a hit squad in 2018 to assassinate him.
Prince Fahd, the royal sacked on Tuesday, was commander of the Royal Saudi Ground Forces, paratroopers units and special forces before he became commander of joint forces in the coalition, according to Saudi daily Arab News.
His father was a former deputy minister of defence.
The king’s decree said the crown prince designated Lieutenant General Mutlaq bin Salim bin Mutlaq al-Azima to replace Prince Fahd.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that ousted the Saudi-backed government from power in Sanaa. The conflict, seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in military stalemate for years.
High-level delegations flew from Israel to the UAE to cement the ‘normalisation’ deal.
High-level delegations from Israel and the US have arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), via the first-ever commercial flight between the Middle Eastern nations, to put final touches on a controversial pact establishing open relations.
Top aides to US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were on board the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Israel’s flag carrier El Al on Monday.
Flight LY971 flew over Saudi Arabia after Riyadh agreed to the Israeli request on Sunday – also a first.
The plane carrying the US and Israeli delegations to Abu Dhabi has the word “peace” written on it in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
It is also named after Kiryat Gat, a Jewish settlement built on the remains of two ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages, Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja.
Announced on August 13, the “normalisation” deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was catalysed largely by shared fears of Iran.
Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, worried it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien head the US delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.
Kushner voiced hope for a more peaceful era in the region.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner said before boarding the El Al aircraft.
Officials will explore bilateral cooperation in areas such as commerce and tourism, and Israeli defence envoys are due to visit the UAE separately.
Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
That could give Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, Kushner called the UAE-Israel deal a “giant step forward”.
“To have played a role in its creation, and I say this as the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it means more to me and to my family that I can ever express,” Kushner said.
The Trump administration has tried to coax other Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, has signalled that it is not ready.
But in what could presage a more relaxed posture by Riyadh, the El Al plane will be allowed to overfly Saudi territory to cut flight time.
On Sunday, Israeli TV channel Kan reported there was Israeli concern that Riyadh may revoke permission to use Saudi airspace at the last moment. If the flight is allowed, it would mark the first time an Israeli commercial plane uses Saudi territory for an overflight. There was no comment from Saudi officials.
‘Soon follow’ O’Brien said on Sunday more Arab and Muslim countries were likely to follow Abu Dhabi’s move.
“We believe that other Arab and Muslim countries will soon follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead and normalise relations with Israel,” O’Brien told reporters after talks at Netanyahu’s residence.
He did not name the states, but Israeli officials have publicly mentioned Oman, Bahrain and Sudan.
Recent news reports suggested Morocco may also be considering a similar agreement with Israel in exchange for military and economic aid.
However, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani said last week “we refuse any normalisation with the Zionist entity because this emboldens it to go further in breaching the rights of the Palestinian people”.
Palestinians have condemned the UAE’s move as an abandonment of a policy of linking official relations with Israel to the achievement of Palestinian statehood in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Kushner and his team were “scrambling to convince as many Arab and Muslim leaders as possible” to give Trump an election boost.
“They will be a prop at the backdrop of a meaningless spectacle for a ridiculous agreement that will not bring peace to the region,” she said.
The UAE-Israel agreement hit an immediate speed bump after it was announced, as contradictory comments on the planned Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley were made.
In spite of earlier comments by the UAE and a joint statement by the three countries that indicated the annexation plan would be “suspended”, senior UAE official Omar Ghobash, has admitted his government did not “have any guarantees as such” that Israel would not annex occupied Palestinian territory in the future.
Kushner has said as part of the Israeli-UAE deal that the United States will not consent to Israeli annexation for “some time”.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, cast the annexation plan – already dogged by disagreements within his governing coalition on the proposed timing – as temporarily on hold. But Israeli officials have signalled they want approval from Israel’s main ally – the US – first.
Weapons sales The Israel-UAE accord also faces another problem: a possible sale of stealth F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi that could challenge the Israeli technological edge in the Middle East.
Netanyahu has denied reports the UAE deal hinges on the sale of F-35s to the Emirates, saying he opposes a move that could reduce Israel’s military advantage.
“This deal did not include Israel’s acceptance of any arms deal,” the Israeli leader said last week.
Ever since the 1960s, the US has guaranteed to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region.
The policy was enhanced two years ago with a law that Washington must ensure, when selling weapons to another country in the Middle East, that Israel retains the ability to defend itself if the arms were to fall into the wrong hands.
Israel has already received a first consignment of American F-35s, a fighter also coveted by other Gulf powers.
Yoel Guzansky, a senior analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, told AFP there is no doubt of the importance of the F-35s.
“I absolutely think that without the F-35, the possibility of buying it, they [the Emiratis] wouldn’t sign the agreement,” said Guzansky. “This is a big hurdle to the fulfilment of the agreement.”
Guzansky noted before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, the US sold Turkey and Iran sophisticated weaponry, “and now these countries are hostile towards Israel”.
But some analysts say a deal can be struck to the satisfaction of both Israel and the UAE, and ultimately Saudi Arabia, a longtime customer of US armaments.
“Although this is not really public, from what I understand arrangements are being made that the version that the Arab country gets is not the absolute latest version,” Joshua Teitelbaum, a Gulf specialist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University told AFP.
Economic ties On Saturday, the UAE announced it was scrapping its economic boycott against Israel. Officials from the two countries have said they are looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology.
Netanyahu told reporters abolishing “the anachronistic boycott” opened the door for “unbridled” trade, tourism and investment.
Statements issued by the UAE and Israel on Sunday said the UAE minister of state and Israel’s agriculture minister had spoken by phone and “pledged to collaborate on projects that address food and water security”.
The UAE, a desert state, relies on imports for about 80 percent of its food, and has heavily encouraged investment in agricultural technology and farmland abroad in recent years.
Israel and the UAE say they want to promote trade – especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the UAE – establish direct air links, and boost tourism.
A 48-storey residential building in Sharjah, United Arabs Emirates went under fire today, injuring about seven people.
The seven people were treated for minor injuries from the fire and taken to hospital for treatment, the media office tweeted.
Video on social media purportedly of the fire showed burning debris falling from a tower engulfed in flames, which local media said was the 48-storey Abbco Tower. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.