Washington Watch: The times they are a-changin’

Saudi Arabia’s upcoming multi-billion dollar arms deal – the biggest in history – has garnered nary a peep from Israel or AIPAC.

Saudi Arabia is about to make the most expensive arms deal in history – $60 billion for 84 new F- 15 fighters and upgrades for 70 older models plus nearly 200 Apache, Black Hawk and Long Bird helicopters – and there’s nary a peep from Israel or its Washington lobby.
In fact, they’ve privately blessed the sale, according to Congressional, Israeli and lobby sources. Formal notification for the sale is expected shortly, and all indications point to no serious effort to block it.
Maybe just some huffing and puffing from politicians trying to burnish their pro-Israel hardline bonafides.
One big reason is that Israeli defense firms stand to make tens of millions on the Saudi sale by manufacturing key components, including the vertical stabilizers, portions of the wings and the conformal fuel pods for the Saudi F-15s.
“The word from the (Israeli) embassy and AIPAC is they have no objections, just some small concerns,” said a senior Congressional foreign policy advisor. In fact, AIPAC hasn’t challenged Arab arm sales since 1986 out of fear of impeding its access in the Executive Branch.
“Even if they want to go to the barricades, they don’t have the troops up here,” said the Hill source.
That was confirmed by others close to the lobby.
Those lucrative contracts for Israel are not the only reason the sale will sail through.
Israeli officials have been praising the Obama administration for consulting closely on the Saudi package and providing assurances the Saudis will not get the same level of avionics and armaments on the IAF F-15, particularly precision-guided, longrange standoff weapons.
Israel’s main concern is the possibility that the Apache attack helicopters will be based at Tabuk, the Saudi air base less than 150 miles from Eilat, but they are optimistic that will be solved.
THE SAUDIS also have been helpful in pushing a reluctant Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (although the administration is still upset that they refuse any public confidence building measures toward Israel).
Israel no longer sees Saudi Arabia as a threat (despite the official state of war) but as an ally against their mutual enemy, Iran. Security services of both countries have been exchanging intelligence reports on what’s going on in Iran, although I’m told neither one has good sources inside the Islamic republic.
Although the administration is assuring Congress that the Saudi sale won’t alter the balance of power in the region, its intention is to do just that. This is a continuation of the Bush policy of beefing up the defenses of friendly Gulf states to show them and Iran America is serious about defending them. But don’t look for any of them to attack Iranian nuclear sites; they’re still praying five times a day that Israel will do that job for them so they can be rid of the Iranian threat (and still run off to the United Nations to condemn the Zionist aggressors).
The Saudi deal is one of two major weapons sales that will be pumping billions of dollars into the Israeli economy. The bigger one is the sweetheart deal the Israelis have negotiated over their purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most advanced and most expensive.
Acquiescing to the Saudi deal may have helped pave the way for the favorable arrangements on the F-35.
Israel plans initially to buy 20 F-35s for about $2.75 billion, which it can pay for out of its annual $3 billion foreign aid grant. Its defense industry will also be getting about $4 billion in contracts, called offsets, to build wing assemblies and other critical components for global sales of the plane by its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. That amount will rise as the number of Israeli orders rises.
SOME IN the US defense industry are complaining that the two deals, which will pump billions into the Israeli economy, will take away American jobs.
One rationale for this unprecedented arrangement reportedly is that the Obama administration and Lockheed Martin believe the Israeli sale gives the F- 35 the prestige of an endorsement by one of the world’s top air forces. The offsets, better than given any other buyer, are a sales incentive; final terms remain to be negotiated.
The new Israeli-Saudi connection is born of self-interest.
Don’t expect the two to become fast friends – but look for a growing web of security and economic relationships as the Iran threat mounts.