The Pentagon approved the possible sale of PAC-3 Missiles to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday with the Defence Security Cooperation Agency saying that the sale could protect Saudi Arabia’s southern border and would benefit a crucial US partner in the region.
The announcement came after the US State Department also approved the possible sale and said that Riyadh is a long-term US ally and has been a key partner in the US-led anti-ISIS coalition currently targeting the group in parts of Syria and Iraq since September, 2014.
"Lockheed Martin [which makes the missiles] is supporting the US government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as they discuss the potential sale of additional PAC-3 Missiles as part of the upgrade of the Royal Saudi Air Defense Force," Lockheed said.
The State Department also approved a possible sale of $500 million worth of ammunition which it said would be used to protect Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
US officials said the sale would "contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States."
"The proposed sale will modernize and replenish Saudi Arabia's current Patriot missile stockpile, which is becoming obsolete and difficult to sustain due to age and limited availability of repair parts," the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement on Wednesday.
The approval of the sale comes as Saudi Arabia continues its more than five-month aerial campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Last week a ceasefire was announced by the Saudi-led coalition, but it was violated quickly by both sides. According to the UN, the Yemeni conflict has so far claimed more than 1,900 civilian lives including at least 202 in the last 14 days.
Recently the US and the five other world powers agreed on a nuclear deal with Iran, after nearly a decade of negotiations. The deal would end sanctions against Iran in exchange for its nuclear programme being monitored and restricted to ensure it is used for peaceful purposes only.
Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival in the Middle East, has had concerns about the deal but Washington gave Saudi Arabia “reassurances” that the deal will protect the country’s safety.
The administration of US President Barack Obama has welcomed the authorisation of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite concern from human rights organisations about possible war crimes in Yemen as well as international repression according to the Middle East Eye news website.
The director of the Arms and Security Project at the Centre for International Policy, William Hartung, told Democracy Now earlier this year that “The Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any US administration since World War II."