Members of Saudi security forces take part in a military parade.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli ministers have voiced concern about Israel’s ability to retain its qualitative military edge following the signing of a “tremendous” arms deal by US President Donald Trump with Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
Riyadh will receive $110 billion effective immediately, plus at least another $350b. over the next 10 years in a deal aimed at supporting the Sunni kingdom in the face of the threats posed to it by Iran and its proxies.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s second largest arms importer and according to the US State Department, the wide-ranging deal will cover border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air and missile defense systems as well as cybersecurity and communications technology.
The package also includes defense equipment such as tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters, Patriot and THAAD anti-missile system as well as multi-mission surface combatant ships, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems.
The deal will also see the modernization of the kingdom’s air force including a commitment by Lockheed Martin to assemble 150 Blackhawk S-70 helicopters for $6b.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced a desire to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said before the weekly cabinet meeting that “this is a matter that really should trouble us.”
“Saudi Arabia is a hostile country and we must ensure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is preserved. Hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons deals is something we should receive explanations about.”
Intelligence Minister Israel Katz stated that “President Trump’s visit strengthens the anti-Iranian camp in the region and presents an opportunity to advance regional security and economic cooperation as a foundation for regional peace.”
But, he stressed, “at the same time Israel’s qualitative military edge should be maintained.”
In September, Israel and the US signed what was at the time a “historic” arms deal which takes effect on October 1, 2018, and would see Jerusalem receive $38b. in military aid over a decade. Under the terms of the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) Israel will receive $3.1b. in foreign military financing in the next fiscal year, followed by $3.3b. in the subsequent years, plus $500 million designated to missile defense.
At least $7b. of the MoU is earmarked for purchasing 50 of the world’s most advanced fighter plane, the F-35s, to make two full IAF squadrons by 2022. That plane has been touted as being instrumental in giving Israel complete air superiority in the region for the next 40 years.
The Israeli military is also working on two large deals with the US, including the procurement of fighter jets – either advanced versions of Boeing’s F-15 fighter jets or a different variant of the F-35 – and helicopters in order to upgrade two air force squadrons.
But the agreement entailed concessions by Netanyahu, such as for the first time Israel would not receive additional funds from Congress. In 2016, for example, Congress allocated an additional $206m. for three missile defense systems and Jerusalem will also move toward spending all of the aid within the US, whereas in the past Israel used 26% of the funds domestically.
According to a February report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, arms imports jumped by 86% between 2012 and 2016 in the Middle East, accounting for 29% of global arms purchases, an increase of almost double from the previous five-year period due in part to conflicts raging in the Middle East.