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Despite the significant increase in US military aid to Israel, defense officials warned Sunday that the sale of satellite-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia had the potential to constitute a strategic threat to the state of Israel.
According to the proposed arms deal, Saudi Arabia will receive thousands of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) - a low-cost guidance kit that converts existing unguided free-fall bombs into accurately guided "smart" weapons. The package also proposes a 25 percent increase in US military aid to Israel, from an annual $2.4 billion to $3b. a year.
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Senior defense officials praised the decision to increase military aid but said that the JDAM sale to Saudi Arabia was still enough to destabilize the strategic military balance in the Middle East. The advanced weapon, these officials said, would grant Saudi Arabia the capability to accurately fire missiles at strategic sites and installations in southern Israel.
"We do not have a way to defend ourselves against this weapon," a senior Defense Ministry official said, warning that the Saudi regime could be toppled and the advanced American weaponry fall into the hands of Islamic extremists.
Last month, Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Military Bureau head Amos Gilad and Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, head of the IDF Planning Directorate, met with senior Pentagon officials in Washington to discuss the proposed deal and to see if it could be changed in Israel's favor.
According to senior officials, the Israeli delegation walked away from the talks disappointed and dissatisfied. An Israeli request to acquire the F-22 stealth bomber - a plane that can avoid radar detection - in order to retain its qualitative edge was also turned down, the officials said.
"We were told that the plane's sale was currently off the table," another official said. "It does not look like that will change under this administration."
The use to which the significant increase in military aid will be put is scheduled to be discussed by the General Staff when it convenes in August to determine the IDF's multi-year budget plan.
In addition to the F-22, the IDF has expressed interest in several other advanced military platforms manufactured in the US, including the new C-130 J model, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and additional more advanced laser-guided JDAM.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert opened Sunday's cabinet meeting relating to the proposed massive US arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and the concomitant increase in the military aid package to Israel.
"A detailed and explicit commitment was given to ensure our qualitative military edge over the Arab states," he said of the US aid package, which will amount to more than $30b. over the next decade. Olmert confirmed that it was agreed during his meeting with US President George W. Bush last month that Washington would substantially increase its military aid to Israel.
"It is an increase of more than 25% starting next year," said Olmert. He added that the US remained committed to ensuring Israel's military supremacy over the Arab countries.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.