of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East, Israel and
Saudi Arabia, are on the brink of signing large arms deals with the US
in a move designed to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, according to
has agreed to sell Saudi Arabia 84 of the latest model of the F-15 jet
and dozens of Black Hawk helicopters. The deal also includes
refurbishing many of the kingdom’s older F-15s, the Wall Street Journal
reported on Monday.
is believed to have opposed the $30 billion deal. However, in a
concession to Israel, the new F-15s, made by the Boeing Company, will
not be equipped with the latest weapons and avionics systems available
to the US military.
last such major arms sale by the US to Saudi Arabia was in 1992, when
the kingdom received 72 F-15s. On that occasion, Israel tried to block
the $9bn deal by lobbying the US Congress, straining relations with the
White House of George H W Bush.
the US is preparing to provide Israel’s air force with the F-35, the
latest jet fighter made by Lockheed Martin, the Israeli daily Haaretz
reported last week.
F-35’s stealth technology, which allows it to evade radar detection and
anti-aircraft missiles, comes with a hefty price tag of up to $150
million a plane -- a cost that Israel had been balking at.
according to the reports, the US has offered Israeli firms defence
contracts worth $4bn to supply parts for the F-35 -- a deal some Israeli
analysts believe is designed to buy Israel’s silence over the Saudi
deal and ensure it gets through the US Congress.
is one of the largest such deals in Israel’s history and it would
offset much of the cost to Israel of buying its first batch of F-35s.
aircraft is not expected to enter service until 2014. If Israel signs
up for a single squadron of 20 F-35s, as expected in the next few weeks,
it would be the first country outside the US to secure the jet. Israel
has been given an option to buy 55 more.
year Israel had threatened to abandon negotiations over the F-35 and
opt instead to buy the advanced F-15. Saudi Arabia’s reported purchase
of that jet appears to make such a scenario less likely.
The Obama administration has faced heavy lobbying from Israel to prevent the sale of the F-15s to Saudi Arabia.
these planes are against Iran, tomorrow they might turn against us,”
Haaretz quoted an unnamed security official as saying last month.
Barak, Israel’s defence minister, told the Washington Post last month
that the US administration was committed to making sure Israel was not
left in an “inferior situation” and was “doing a lot to support Israel’s
qualitative military edge”.
Saudis have become one of the largest purchasers of US-made arms since
they bought the first AWACS surveillance planes in the 1980s. According
to a recent Congressional report, the Gulf kingdom spent $36 billion
world-wide on arms in the seven years to 2008.
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Saudi Arabia has the third largest air force in the Middle East behind
Israel and Iran. The Royal Saudi Air Force has 280 “combat capable”
aircraft, according to data compiled by the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, compared to Israel’s 424 and Iran’s 312.
Wall Street Journal did not specify the model of F-15 being bought by
Riyadh, but experts widely assumed it to be the upgraded Strike Eagle.
The jet, designed for precision air-to-surface attacks, was the main one
used by the US in destroying Iraq’s radar and missile systems during
the 2003 invasion.
said the joint strengthening of the Saudi Arabian and Israeli
militaries was seen as a key regional interest for the US, given the
belief in Washington that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear warhead
and is rapidly amassing a large arsenal of missiles.
as Iran reportedly claimed last week, it is in possession of Russian
S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, the F-35 stealth technology would give
Israel an important advantage in an attack.
However, some analysts have questioned the wisdom of the US arms sales.
Parsi, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and an
expert on Israeli-Iranian relations, said it was a “misguided policy”
aimed at keeping Tehran “isolated and subdued”.
that is achieved by heavily arming Arab states and Israel is to
increase Iran’s sense of insecurity and therefore make the region less
secure,” he said.
Zunes, a US-based Middle East policy analyst, accused Washington of
setting the stage for another “arms race” in the region.
is a pattern we’ve seen before. The US offers Arab states expensive
modern armaments, and then turns around to Israel and tells it it needs
to have even better weapons to stay ahead in the race. Then the pressure
again mounts on the Arab states. It’s a racket that has been a bonanza
for US arms manufacturers,” he said.
receives $3bn annually in US military aid, more than any other country
and covering about a quarter of Israel’s defence expenditure. Unlike
other recipients, Israel is allowed to spend 26 per cent of the aid on
the development and production of its own weapons systems.
Israeli officials are reported to fear that a combined squeeze on the
country’s defence budget and a massive outlay on buying a large number
of F-35s would leave the military without money to replenish its stocks
of ammunition and bombs.
month Washington agreed to an additional military subsidy of $420
million to help Israel develop its “missile shield” programmes, designed
to intercept short-, mid- and long-range missiles.
has been concerned by the growing stockpiles of rockets and missiles
that Hamas and Hizbullah have accumulated close to its borders as well
as the more advanced arsenals of Iran and Syria.
addition to the question of the price of the F-35, Israel and the US
have been at loggerheads over whether Israel should be allowed to
install its own avionics and weapons systems. So far the US has refused,
and last month denied Israel a test aircraft.
In the past, Tel Aviv and Washington have fallen out over Israel copying and selling on American systems to other regimes.
Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest
books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His
website is www.jkcook.net.