Israel's qualitative military edge and enduring US-Arab ties

There is no reason why ties with Israel have to come at the expense of ties with the Arab and Muslim world.

May 25, 2017 09:59
3 minute read.
US President Donald Trump pictured dancing with swords at a reception ceremony held in his honor in

US President Donald Trump pictured dancing with swords at a reception ceremony held in his honor in Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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US President Donald Trump’s precedent-setting visit to the capitals of the three monotheistic religions made a point of starting with Saudi Arabia. This choice was symbolic of a new American policy that nevertheless reflects an old one: the preeminence of a much older relationship with Saudi oil.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu naturally crowed about the significance of a sitting US president’s first visit to the Western Wall and other illustrations of our special relationship with the world’s greatest democracy. However, it would be more realistic for the Middle East’s only democracy to realize that Trump’s America is in desperate need of the jobs that its arms sales to the Saudis portend.

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Israel supports the US providing weapons to the Gulf states, and particularly to Saudi Arabia, as part of its strategic goal of combating Iran and its ongoing genocidal threats. Nevertheless, the Trump administration must continue to pursue the policy of previous administrations of ensuring that Israel retains its qualitative military edge, no matter what armaments are sold to states that are still numbered among its enemies. Trump indeed emphasized this more than once during his brief, but immensely important, visit.
Trump signs $110 billion Saudi arms deal (credit: REUTERS)

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz voiced some concern about this, although an examination of the Saudi shopping list indicates it is no strategic threat. On the eve of Trump’s excursion to the Saudi kingdom, Boeing announced it had signed deals with Riyadh that include the sale of military and commercial aircraft. These, however, are not the cutting-edge F-35 warplanes that are being supplied only to Israel, but Chinook transport helicopters and P-8 marine surveillance aircraft, plus up to 16 wide-body airliners to SaudiGulf Airlines.

The more than $100 billion in American arms also includes maintenance contracts for the Saudi military’s US-made aircraft fleet, a senior White House official said on Friday. The official told Reuters the arms package could end up exceeding more than $300 billion over the next decade. He added pointedly that, while helping the Saudis boost their defensive capabilities vis-à-vis Iran, the deals maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Obama administration – and which is being used to pay for Israel’s first squadron of the vaunted F-35 – totals $38 billion over the next decade. This is nevertheless dwarfed by the acquisitions of Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest arms importer (after India). According to the US State Department, the huge new deal will also cover border security, counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air and missile defense systems as well as cyber security and communications technology.

The package also includes conventional defense equipment such as tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, Patriot and THAAD anti-missile systems, warships, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems – none of which represents a strategic threat to Israel. Even the inclusion of a program of modernization of the kingdom’s air force with 150 Black Hawk helicopters for $6b. is nothing for the IDF to worry about.

Katz said 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.” He stressed, however, that “at the same time Israel’s qualitative military edge should be maintained.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, citing some “non-negligible” arms purchases by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and even Iran, told Army Radio on Wednesday, “I’m not at peace with the arms race in the Middle East. The arms sales in the region have reached $215b. and this is no small sum.”

According to a February report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, arms imports to the Middle East jumped by 86% between 2012 and 2016, accounting for 29% of global purchases, an increase of almost double from the previous five-year period studied.

Trump expressed a well-scripted truth during his Israel Museum speech on Tuesday: There is no reason why ties with Israel have to come at the expense of ties with the Arab and Muslim world.

They won’t – as long as Israel maintains its qualitative edge.

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