The State Department notified Congress on Wednesday that it supports selling F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without requiring that the tiny island monarchy in the Persian Gulf first improve its human rights record.
The decision to proceed with the sale amounts to an abrupt reversal of an Obama administration decision. Last fall, the State Department informed Congress that it would pursue a $5 billion sale of 19 Lockheed Martin F-16s and related equipment to Bahrain. But it included the precondition that Bahrain curb human rights abuses, amid a crackdown on dissidents among the Shiite majority protesting the country’s Sunni rulers.
The about-face reflects the Trump administration’s determination to train its focus on countering Iran’s influence in the region. The Sunni leaders of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain consider the Shiite theocracy of Iran to be a regional threat to their existence. Bahrain has a unique position for U.S. national security, too, as the home of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters, responsible for keeping the shipping lanes open in the waterways traversed by oil tankers.