Why $60 billion in US arms to Saudi Arabia isn't causing an outcry
Israel doesn't oppose a US arms deal that would send advanced aircraft to Saudi Arabia, which is increasingly seen as essential to containing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
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But by the end of President Bush's term, Lippman says Riyadh became cozier with Washington, and Bush had softened his stance. In 2008, Bush visited Riyadh twice and also gave details of the aircraft sale that is now nearing completion. Then as now, arming Saudi Arabia was seen as a way to counter Iran.Skip to next paragraph
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“The Saudis can certainly make the case to Washington that Iran is a growing threat, so their argument seems to grow for getting such sophisticated planes," James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, told the Monitor in June when Saudi King Abdullah visited the White House to discuss the Saudis’ bid to purchase a large number of F-15 fighter jets.
Yet such a deal would also have been adamantly opposed by Israel years ago. During the 1980s, Israel opposed the sale of aircraft and missiles to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to a 2004 Congressional Research Service briefing. In 1986, the Senate blocked President Reagan’s sale of shoulder-launched “Stinger” missiles to Riyadh amid American and Israeli objections – although a denuded arms package eventually went through.
Israeli concerns about the newest deal have been reportedly calmed by assurances that the jets will lack long-range weapons systems and be of a lower grade than those sold to Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has reportedly discussed the deal with US officials and a US Defense Department official told Reuters that Israel is "fairly comfortable" with it overall. As an editorial in The Jerusalem Post recently highlighted, "If the US does not sell to the Gulf states, EU countries or even Russia, which are much less receptive to Israeli interests, might fill the vacuum."
Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh today all share concerns about Tehran possessing a nuclear weapon. "In contrast [to the 1980s], today, the US, Israel and the Saudis are on the same page as far as Iran is concerned," The Jerusalem Post editorial declared. Lippman, in a 2008 policy brief (pdf) for the Middle East Institute, argued that Riyadh would feel compelled to build or acquire its own nuclear arsenal in the case of Tehran going nuclear.
"Part of what the [Obama] administration is doing," Lippman adds, "is to convince the Saudis that we can take care of their security concerns without them getting nuclear."