Israel not opposing US arms sales to Gulf states

Billions of dollars in deals meant to counter Iranian threat.

WASHINGTON – The Israeli government and pro-Israel advocates aren’t opposing recent US arms deals with Gulf countries, sources have told The Jerusalem Post.
Top US commander General David Petraeus made a rare public confirmation of US Patriot missile batteries being stationed in four Gulf states last month, which Capitol Hill sources identified as Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE. They also mentioned that the shorter-range THAAD missile defense system and F-16s were components of additional billion-dollar packages.
Petraeus’s remarks came as the United States has also moved Aegis ballistic missile cruisers into the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean, conducted a massive missile defense drill with Israel and started speaking more openly about “consequences” should Iran continue with its pursuit of nuclear capabilities.
“Iran is clearly seen as a very serious threat by those on the other side of the Gulf front, and indeed, it has been a catalyst for the implementation of the architecture that we envision and have now been trying to implement,” Petraeus said in his comments at the Institute for the Study of War on January 22.
Though in the past, arms dealing to Israel’s neighbors has often been met with concern by Israel and its allies in Washington, the present steps are understood to be focused on shoring up regional defensive capabilities against Iran and sending a message to Teheran of deterrence and seriousness, sources said.
Several Congressional staffers told the Post that they haven’t been contacted by the Israeli government or pro-Israel lobbyists on the issue, as is usually the case if those parties have objections to policies.
“I haven’t heard anyone from the Israeli embassy complaining,” said one legislative aide.
“We are in full cooperation with the administration and it is something which we follow, as we follow every development in the region,” said embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled when asked about the deals. “There is an intensive dialogue and full cooperation and these things are discussed openly.”
Another Israeli official speaking anonymously due to the sensitivity of the issue said, “Israel understands US interests in sending these systems to Arab countries.” He added that at the same time, America continues to ensure Israel’s military superiority.
“We very much appreciate the US’s continued commitment at the highest levels to maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” he said.
Another Congressional staffer said that he doesn’t see members of Congress mounting an opposition. “Everyone seems to be on board with the strategy, so I don’t think there are any objections to these groups getting primarily defensive equipment.” Arms sales can be blocked by Congress if major resistance and political will to counter them exists, though usually concerns are addressed through backroom discussions and modifications to the packages.
In the past, Israel has expressed strong disapproval of arms sales to the Gulf, notably in the 1980s when the Reagan administration authorized a major deal involving sophisticated aircraft sales to Saudi Arabia. Despite strong opposition from many members of Congress, as well as pro-Israel lobbyists, the sale ended up going through.
More recently, in 2007, another massive deal with Saudi Arabia raised the hackles of some in Congress and the pro-Israel community. The push-back was significantly less than in the 1980s and didn’t keep the sale from proceeding.
In the current case, some observers have suggested Israel might have concerns because of the leap in capabilities for four additional Gulf countries.
In fact, some Capitol Hill sources indicated the biggest obstacle to transferring the systems hadn’t been Congressional or Israeli apprehension, but the hesitancy of the Gulf states to accept the US weaponry and troops necessary to train locals and operate the equipment given domestic sensitivities over America’s presence.
At the same time, their willingness to heighten their military collaboration with the US sends a signal to Israel that its neighbors take the threat of Iran seriously and are playing on the same team when it comes to countering that threat.
Congressman Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey), who sits on key defense and foreign operations appropriations subcommittees involved, explained that “the piece-by-piece construction of a network of offensive and defensive capabilities” by regional actors as well as the United States – whose own troops also happen to sit in two countries bordering Iran – delivers a strong warning.
“I think it’s a brilliant strategy to send a powerful message to Iranthat a first strike for them will be unsuccessful and will cause adevastating regime-changing response from not only Israel but also thisalliance,” he said, pointing out that the consequences should changethe calculus on Teheran undertaking an attack likely to be repelled inthe first place by the sophisticated defensive systems.
“Tryingto be a nuclear weapons super-power is not a strategy that itsneighbors will permit to happen,” he continued. “We hope that [the US]strategy will encourage Iran to cease and desist from its efforts toweaponize its nuclear program, to make all of its nuclear facilitiesavailable to inspectors and to find a way to work with the West ondeveloping any civilian nuclear capability.”