US orders new troops to Mideast to counter Iran ‘threat’

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.
Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as human rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Lawmakers and congressional aides warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons deals including the sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead by declaring a national emergency. “President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … There is no new ’emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” said Senator Chris Murphy.
Murphy, a Democrat, made public on Twitter on Wednesday that Trump was considering the loophole in the Arms Control Export Act to clear the sales. Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration’s action was “unfortunate” and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress. “I would have strongly preferred for the administration to utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process,” McCaul said in a statement.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that US partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event.” It is not the first time Congress and Trump have clashed over policy in the region, or the division of powers between the White House and Capitol Hill. The House and Senate voted to end U.S. military support for the campaign in Yemen earlier this year, but Trump vetoed the resolution.

Boon to defense industry
In documents sent to Congress, Pompeo listed a wide range of products and services that would be provided to the countries. They include Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Other companies that will benefit include General Electric , now cleared to sell engines for use in F-16 fighter jets operated by the UAE and the US unit of French firm Thales , which was cleared to sell a fuzing system for Paveway IV precision guided bombs to Britain and the UAE. It will also likely be welcome news for Britain’s BAE Systems Plc and Europe’s Airbus, clearing the way for installation of Paveway laser-guided bombs on European-built Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets sold to Saudi Arabia, as well F-15 fighters built by Boeing.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.
Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vowed to fight the action, and said he was in talks with both Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans on ways to preserve congressional review of arms sales. The Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Republican Senator Jim Risch, said he had received formal notification of the administration’s intent to move forward.

In a statement, Risch said, “I am reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.” In his memorandum justifying the emergency declaration, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.

New troops counter Iran
Meanwhile, US is deploying 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East to counter “credible threats” from Iran in a move denounced by Tehran yesterday as “a threat to international peace”. “Increased US presence in our region is very dangerous and a threat to international peace and security and must be confronted,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the official IRNA news agency.

The escalation of the US military presence follows a decision in early May to send an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers in a show of force against what Washington’s leaders believed was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets. “This is a prudent response to credible threats from Iran,” acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Friday.

President Donald Trump, who approved the deployment, called it “protective.” “We want to have protection in the Middle East,” Trump told reporters as he prepared to set off on a trip to Japan. “We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” Trump added. “It’ll be about 1,500 people.”

Fighter jets, missile battalion
The new deployment includes reconnaissance aircraft, fighter jets and engineers. Six hundred of the personnel belong to a Patriot missile defense battalion that had its deployment in the region extended. Pentagon officials said the move was necessary after multiple threatening actions and several small-in-scope attacks in May by Iranian forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and “proxy” forces.

Those include a rocket launched into the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers in Fujairah near the entrance to the Gulf, and a Houthi drone attack against a Saudi oil installation. Iran has denied involvement in any of the attacks. “Americans make such claims to justify their hostile policies and to create tension in the Arabian Gulf,” Zarif said.
The initial threat came at the beginning of May, according to Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. The US caught the IRGC attempting to covertly deploy “modified dhows capable of launching cruise missiles,” he said, referring to small traditional boats. “We view this as a campaign,” Gilday told reporters. The moves “are all part of a dangerous and escalatory strategy by Iran to threaten global trade and to destabilize the region.”

‘Highest levels’
“We believe with a high degree of confidence that this stems back to the leadership of Iran at the highest levels, and that all of the attacks… have been attributed to Iran through their proxies or their forces,” Gilday said, citing still-secret US intelligence. US officials said the aim of the deployment was both to extend greater protection to the 70,000 US forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and to deliver a message to Iran to refrain from attacks.- Agencies