IAF F15s refueling in-flight 311 (R).
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
A massive arms deal clinched between the US and Saudi Arabia has received
surprisingly little attention at home.
Last Thursday, the US finalized
the sale of 84 top-of-theline F-15SA fighter jets to the Saudi air force. From
the US’s standpoint, the deal appears to achieve a number of
First, it provides a boost to relations with the Saudis, after a
period of turbulence over America’s unwillingness to prop up autocratic regimes
in the region in the face of popular uprisings.
The arms deal is also a
hedge against Iranian aggression. It comes during a week when Iran again
threatened to block ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz – a main artery
for the passage of oil – in response to international economic sanctions.
Finally, the transaction is a major boon for a weak US economy.
an Israeli perspective, the deal appears somewhat problematic.
Washington’s intention is to build the Saudis’ confidence in the face of an
increasingly belligerent Iran, these fighter planes could, in theory, just as
soon be used against the Jewish State as against the Islamic
Republic. The present Saudi regime seems stable – but so did the
Mubarak’s and Ben Ali’s.
Jerusalem has not opposed the deal for a variety
The F-15s being sold to the Saudis apparently will not be
equipped with standoff systems – long-range missiles to be used against land and
sea targets. The US has ensured that Israel will maintain air superiority in the
region, most notably through the sale of 20 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to be
supplied by 2017. Also, pro-Israel US lawmakers had ample opportunity to study
the details of the deal and verify that Israel’s core military interests were
And if the US had not gone through with the deal, EU
countries, or the Russians, who are less receptive to Israeli interests, might
have filled the vacuum. By engaging with the Saudis, the US retains its
It is also important to note that the deal is being finalized
at a time when military cooperation between the US and Israel is at an all-time
high, despite seeming tension between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu
But there is another reason Israel will most likely not
oppose the deal. Riyadh and Jerusalem, while hardly allies, share a common
enemy. The Islamic Republic is threatening to tip the delicate balance of power
in the region by attaining nuclear capability. Differences between the Gulf
States and Israel pale in comparison to the Iranian threat.
regarding the Islamic Republic, the US, Israel and the Saudis seem to
In fact, the Gulf States appear to be adamant about stopping Iran.
United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, estimated
publicly last year – before he backtracked under pressure – that bombing Iran
was preferable to an Iranian bomb. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal
has said sanctions are not enough.
Particularly revealing is a Wikileaks
document dated April 2008 in which Saudi’s late King Abdullah told
Gen. David Petraeus to “cut off the head of the snake.”
Saudi arms deal makes some sense, it is bit more difficult to justify long-term
multi-billion dollar US military obligations to Egypt and Iraq.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to be seeking to position himself as an
autocrat at the head of a Shi’ite regime. Three leaders of the Sunni Iraqiya
Party warned of such a scenario in a recent New York Times op-ed. Iran already
enjoys inordinate influence in Iraq. A Shi’ite leadership opposed to
power-sharing with Sunnis is likely to move even closer to Teheran.
in Egypt a reassessment of US military aid is even more in order.
Egyptian parliament is taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, it is
entirely unclear how long the military junta, which is committed to the old
status quo, will continue to hold onto power.
In what is euphemistically
being called the “Arab Spring,” the US need to reevaluate its military ties in
the region, not primarily out of a concern for Israeli interests, rather as a
means of preventing religious extremists from imposing their radical policies
with the aid of advanced US arms.