Dealing arms responsibly

There one reason Israel will most likely not oppose the deal. Riyadh and Jerusalem, while hardly allies, share a common enemy.

IAF F15s refueling in-flight 311 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
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 goals.
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.
But from an Israeli perspective, the deal appears somewhat problematic.
Though 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 of reasons.
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 protected.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 influence.
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 government.
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.
At least regarding the Islamic Republic, the US, Israel and the Saudis seem to agree.
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.”
While the 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.
Iraqi 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.
And in Egypt a reassessment of US military aid is even more in order.
As the 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.