Bush expedites Saudi smart bomb deal

US president wants to tell Saudis about progress during visit to Riyadh; Israel seeks advanced JDAMS.

bush in israel graphic  (photo credit: )
bush in israel graphic
(photo credit: )
Amid Israeli security concerns and in an apparent effort by US President George W. Bush to go to Riyadh next week bearing gifts, the Bush administration has moved up by a day the date on which it will formally notify Congress of plans for a $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Although the administration had originally planned to inform Congress of the deal on January 15, it will now do so on January 14. Bush, according to officials familiar with the issue, will be in Saudi Arabia on the 15th and wants to be able to tell the Saudis he is pushing the issue and working for its passage. After receiving formal notification of the proposed arms deal, including details of what the package includes, Congress will have 30 days to disapprove. If it does not do so, the plan will go through. Israel has expressed concern over inclusion in the deal of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS), commonly referred to as "smart bombs." Nevertheless, it has not actively fought the sale. The Post has also learned that Israel's defense establishment has expressed interest in receiving two new, advanced models of the JDAM in order to retain its qualitative edge over the Saudis, who would receive the standard smart bomb kit. One of the models Israel is interested in has a laser-guided system, and the other is protected from electronic-warfare systems and jamming. Both are manufactured by Boeing Co. in the US. A joint resolution opposed to the sale has already been drafted in the House, and attracted 35 co-sponsors. Likewise, some 235 congressmen have signed letters saying they would opposed the sale unless there were guarantees that the JDAMS would not be used against US troops or Israel. The Bush administration has said that it viewed the sale as necessary to counteract Iran's increasing military threat. Notification of the sale now fits in well with what Bush himself has said is a major theme of his trip to the region: assuring US allies of Washington's commitment to facing down Iran. In addition to visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Bush will also go to Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. State Department notification to Congress of the sale was already delayed once, in December, because some House members wanted more time to study the plan. One Israeli official said it was "interesting" that Bush felt the need to go to Saudi Arabia bringing "gifts," while here, both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas felt the need to give Bush a "present" in terms of an agreement to commence talks on "core issues" of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While Israeli officials could not confirm that the arms sale would be raised during Olmert's talks with Bush, it has been a point of consternation in Israel. Due to these concerns, Israel and the US have engaged in a number of high-level discussions in recent months over what military platforms Washington could provide Israel in exchange for Israel lowering its objection to the deal. In June, OC IDF Planning Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan and head of the MOD's Diplomatic-Security Bureau Amos Gilad traveled to Washington for talks at the Pentagon, during which their request to purchase the F-22 stealth bomber was rejected. In response, the IDF has asked for the newly-developed, advanced JDAM models.