Bernard Lewis, the late, great scholar of the Middle East, once quipped to us that while it is dangerous to be America’s enemy, it can be fatal to be its friend. We wonder if that’s how the Saudis feel as they plead for America for help as it runs out of ammunition to defend against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
The Journal broke the news this week that the Saudis are short of interceptors against the missile and drone attacks on its territory that are coming from the Houthis. The two have been fighting a war in Yemen for seven years, and in one of its first acts this year the Biden Administration cut off arms to the Saudis for the war in Yemen.
The U.S. intended this as an olive branch to the Houthis to negotiate an end to the war. Instead they’ve escalated, multiplying their cross-border attacks into Saudi territory from Yemen. The Houthis are supplied in large part by Iran, which sees no need to stop when its proxies are winning. The drones and missiles aren’t well targeted and sometimes hit civilian targets if they aren’t intercepted. There are more than 70,000 Americans in the Kingdom who could become victims.
The spectacle here is of an ally pleading for defensive ammunition from the same U.S. that is trying to reassure Ukraine and Taiwan that America will stand by them in conflicts with Russia or China. The Biden Administration is also trying to persuade Iran that it will face serious, unspecified consequences if it keeps pursuing a nuclear bomb. President Biden tried to do the same on Tuesday in a video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding Ukraine. But an ally that won’t supply its friends with more Patriot anti-missile interceptors simply isn’t credible with these determined adversaries.
The Saudis aren’t always attractive friends, and they have fought the Yemen war in often brutal fashion, though less so with the help of U.S. trainers during the Trump years. But in the Saudis’ neighborhood, the military choices can be existential.
In better news, the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday not to block Mr. Biden’s proposal to sell $650 million in weapons to the Saudis. That sale includes 280 air-to-air missiles, but that shouldn’t preclude filling the Saudis’ additional need for more interceptors against Houthi missiles and drones.
The Senate vote was 30-67 against the resolution by Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Bernie Sanders, who seem to think the world will be a kinder, gentler place if the U.S. abandons its friends in a fight. The truth is that it’s sure to get worse, and in very bloody ways, if the U.S. won’t even supply its friends with the ammunition to defend themselves.