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Thursday, April 05, 2007

NY Times: US arms sale to Saudis held up by Israeli objections

The New York Times is reporting this morning that a US arms package for Saudi Arabia and 'other Persian Gulf allies' that is intended to be deter Iran is being held up due to Israeli objections that the sale would erode Israel's qualitative advantage in the region.
Israeli officials, including the former defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, have come to Washington in recent months to argue against elements of the planned sales. In particular, the Israelis are concerned about the possible transfer of precision-guided weapons that would give Saudi warplanes much more accurate ability to strike targets, officials said.

The United States has made few, if any, sales of satellite-guided ordnance to gulf countries, several officials said. Israel has been supplied with such weapons since the 1990s and used them extensively in its war against Hezbollah last summer.


Several officials in the State Department and the Pentagon said that plans to formally notify Congress about the potential weapons sales had been delayed at least until later this month. After notification, Congress has 30 days to decide whether to block the sales. Support for maintaining Israel’s military superiority remains strong on Capitol Hill, and administration officials are discussing how to allay the concerns, including the possibility of a separate arms package for Israel.


Israel has long warned about the growing power of Iran’s military, and several officials said that Israel’s concerns about the proposed American arms sales were focused primarily on precision-guided munitions and any other offensive weapons that would be provided to Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries. They said Israel did not seem intent on using its political clout in Congress to kill the entire planned sale.

“It’s not like the Israelis are going to end up with nothing,” said a senior administration official, adding “the Israelis understand that it’s in our interest and their interest” that the United States try to shore up military systems for Sunni Arab allies. But Israel is also concerned that the Bush administration’s ambitions for an American-Israeli-Sunni coalition allied against Iran may never materialize, or that there could be a revolution in Saudi Arabia that would leave the mostly American-made Saudi arsenal in the hands of militant Islamists.

“The Israelis believe the government of Saudi Arabia is under a great deal of pressure,” said David Schenker, a former Pentagon official who is now a senior fellow on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Osama bin Laden would like to change the Saudi government to what he considers a real Islamist government. So Israel doesn’t want them to have this heightened military capability.”


There is less Israeli opposition to possible sales to gulf countries of several advanced weapons systems that are seen as more defensive in nature, including advanced Patriot antimissile batteries as well as new missile-armed coastal warships and a version of the sophisticated Aegis radar system, officials and defense industry executives said. One defense industry official said Saudi Arabia was considering buying as many as a dozen of the new ships.

While the effort is publicly focused on countering Iran, American officials concede that one goal of the effort is also simply to demonstrate that the United States has no intention of turning away from the gulf region, even if it is forced to withdraw from Iraq without bringing stability there.
Two comments. First, notice that the Israeli government has exercised a little bit of common sense for a change and sent former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz - who at least is a military man - rather than current 'defense' minister Amir Comrade Peretz who probably wouldn't know what a laser guided missile is if he tripped over one. Second, given that the Saudis won't even talk to us until we agree in advance to give them everything they want, and given that Egypt, with whom we have a 'peace treaty,' continues to conduct war games in which Israel is the target, can anyone really blame us for not wanting the Saudis and the other Gulf dictatorships to have offensive weapons?


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