How arms deals are shaping the Mideast
A record U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia is part of an effort to put pressure on Iran, partly by strengthening alliances with oil-rich neighbors also concerned by Iran's rise.
Gulf states are stepping up weapons purchases from the United States in the face of an emerging Iran and other regional threats. The deals highlight the extent to which Washington now considers Gulf allies as key to containing Iran.Skip to next paragraph
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What are the major deals under way?
From 2005 to 2009, the US sold up to $37 billion in arms to Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
The recent US-Saudi deal, which is expected to be submitted to Congress for approval soon, could be worth as much as $60 billion.
It would include 84 new Boeing F-15 fighter jets and upgrades to another 70 of them, as well as three types of helicopters: 72 Black Hawks, 70 Apaches, and 36 Little Birds.
In addition, US officials are discussing a $30 billion package to upgrade Saudi Arabia's naval forces.
The US is also expected to agree next year to sell the Theater High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system to the UAE for about $7 billion.
Russia has also been a major supplier of arms to the Middle East. Moscow agreed in 2007 to sell P-800 antiship cruise missiles to Syria. Israel strenuously opposed the deal, citing concerns that the missiles might fall into the hands of the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.
Russia said in September it would go through with the deal. But it did, however, cancel its $800 million deal to sell S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Iran, saying that would violate United Nations sanctions on Iran. Tehran has purchased more than $5 billion in Russian weapons systems over the past decade
How do arms sales help US interests?
Many argue that the main reason for the US-Saudi deal is concern about Iran's rising power – and suspicions it is developing nuclear weapons. The US is increasingly concerned with Iran, and sees Gulf states – particularly Saudi Arabia – as essential partners in containing the Islamic state.
The US-Saudi deal is a reminder to the Iranians that if Tehran moves toward building a nuclear weapon, "the response will be to so beef up regional rivals and enemies that their overall position will be diminished," says Thomas Lippman, adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
It could also serve to dissuade the Saudis from seeking nuclear weapons of their own.
"Part of what the [Obama] administration is doing," Mr. Lippman adds, "is to convince the Saudis that we can take care of their security concerns without them getting nuclear."