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Massive U.S. arms sales to Middle East

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Obama administration has announced a $60 billion sale to Saudi Arabia, including include 84 F-15 fighter planes, 70 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, 72 UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopters, and 36 MH-6 Little Bird surveillance helicopters. The package also includes HARM anti-radar missiles, more precision-guided JDAM bombs, Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and sophisticated helmet-mounted displays for fighter pilots.  
The Financial Times reports that the UAE has just signed military supply contracts for $35-40 billion and that by 2014, Oman is expected to shell out $12 billion and Kuwait some $7 billion for arms, in what the Times calls “one of the largest re-armament exercises in peacetime history.”
In the boilerplate language used to formally notify Congress, the Administration avers that the proposed infusion of arms will not change the balance of power. Indeed, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that the United States, “would do nothing that would upset the current balance in the region.”
That’s odd. The introduction of another $60 billion (plus $12 billion, plus $7 billion) in weapons won’t change the balance? Is that because the weapons are useless? Is it because the Saudis can’t use them?  Is it because we don’t expect them to use them?  Is it because Israel doesn’t mind? Agence France Presse (AFP) did report that, “in deference to Israeli concerns, the Administration did not offer so-called standoff systems, which are advanced long-range weapons that can be attached to F-15s for use in offensive operations against land- and sea-based targets.”
Deference to Israeli concerns requires pointing out that history indicates that sales to Saudi Arabia aren’t the issue. Iran is the issue.
In 2007, Russia signed a deal to sell Iran its S-300 anti-missile system. This week, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff said the missiles are banned under UN Security Council sanctions against Tehran, so the deal will not be consummated – now, but the Russians have been on-again-off-again. On the other hand, Russia is going forward with the sale of P-800 Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria. “These weapons cannot be used to destabilize the region,” said former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in a Jerusalem Post story. “Ivanov pointed to ‘provisions in the contract with Syria’ that specifically bar Damascus from transferring these weapons to a third party (Hezbollah), noting that the manufacturers were also only allowed to work on the weapon installation with the Syrians.”
Well, that makes us feel better. After all, UNIFIL ensures that the Syrians don’t share much materiel with Hezbollah. The State Department said, “Opposition to arms sales to state sponsors of terrorism is well known,” but didn’t mention the recent report of Syria and Hezbollah creating a joint military headquarters to orchestrate cooperation between their forces – in addition to the ongoing smuggling. 
Countries can try to make any decision look like responsible foreign policy. Russia says “no” to Iran but “yes” to its proxy and partner Syria. Syria is a “state sponsor of terrorism” when the State Department wants to criticize the Russians, but what is it when we provide them with political legitimacy in an effort to “woo” them from Iran? The United States sells Saudi Arabia weapons, but skips over Saudi funding of anti-American mosques and schools in Europe and the United States – the nucleus of jihadist education. 
The fact is that Saudi Arabia is unlikely to take on Iran without the United States and is still hoping Israel will remove the Iranian threat, so if we’re selling them “defensive” equipment with that understanding, well, recycling petrodollars isn’t altogether a bad thing. But Iran is a threat to the region with or without nuclear weapons and the problem won’t be solved with $60 billion worth of arms or by complaining about the Russians.

Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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