Alexander Vershbow, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said Wednesday that a US arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $60 billion would not affect Israel's qualitative military edge in the Middle East and that Israel is not expected to object.
Vershbow was reacting to a US Defense Department notification to Congress on Wednesday saying that it plans to sell Saudi Arabia as much as $60 billion worth of weapons to help confront threats from Iran and regional extremists violent.RELATED:Some Congressmen come out against US-Saudi arms dealWashington Watch: The times they are a-changin’
State Department and Pentagon officials told lawmakers that the sales that will include 84 new F-15 fighter jets, upgrades to 70 existing Saudi F-15s, 190 helicopters and a wide array of missiles, bombs and delivery systems, as well as accessories such as night-vision goggles and radar warning systems.
Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said that Israel hasn't opposed the sale.
The Israelis "agree that it is in our interests and in the region's interests for Saudi Arabia to have a close relationship to us," Kahl said. "And they also are concerned about the threat emanating from Iran."
The US has worked to ensure that Israel maintains a "qualitative military edge" over other countries in the region, Kahl said.
Israel isn't asking Congress for any particular steps in relation to the
sale, such as hearings or assurances, because any concerns were
discussed with the administration, said Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for
the Israeli Embassy in Washington, without detailing any reservations.
"We're not thrilled about it," Peled said. Still, "we have a good,
continuous and close dialogue with the administration and a strong,
ongoing commitment to maintain Israel's military edge."
Kahl said the Saudi F-15 package also doesn't include "the types of
systems the Israelis would be most concerned about," such as weapons
that can be fired from long distances and could, under certain
scenarios, potentially threaten Israel.
The sale, first revealed in September, has been in the works for months and is designed to strengthen the defense forces of Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, and counter Iran as a regional power in the Persian Gulf.
"This proposed sale has tremendous significance from a strategic regional perspective," said Andrew Shapiro, the assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs who announced the deal.
"It will send a strong message to countries in the region that we are committed to support the security of our key partners and allies in the Arabian Gulf and broader Middle East," Shapiro told reporters. "And it will enhance Saudi Arabia's ability to deter and defend against threats to its borders and to its oil infrastructure, which is critical to our economic interests."
Congress has 30 days to block the deal, but the officials said they did not expect significant opposition despite concerns by some lawmakers' about the impact the sales might have on Israel's security.