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Arms deal will anger Iran, cheer Israel

Sept. 14, 2010 at 1:27 PM   |   Comments

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- The massive U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia, reportedly worth $60 billion and counting, will undoubtedly calm Riyadh's fears of Iran by considerably expanding the offensive capabilities of the kingdom's air force.

But it will antagonize the Islamic Republic at a time of high tension with the United States and is sure to lead to a significant boost in the supply of even more advanced U.S. weapons system to Israel, much to the chagrin of its Arab adversaries.

The U.S. arms package looks set to grow to unprecedented levels in the months ahead. It will set in motion a buildup of Arab power in the Persian Gulf on a scale not seen before, a development that could bring far-reaching changes.

The $60 billion price tag announced so far covers new aircraft for the Saudis, mainly built by Boeing. These include 84 new-model F-15S fighters, upgrades for 70 of those already held by Saudi Arabia, 70 AH-64D Apache helicopter gunships and 36 AH-6M Little Bird helicopters.

Discussions with the kingdom are under way on the possible sale of missile defense systems, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area anti-ballistic missile weapon, and a naval upgrade that could triple that figure.

U.S. officials say the naval upgrade, if it comes off, is potentially worth another $30 billion on its own, although no details of what it would entail have been disclosed.

On top of all that, the United Arab Emirates is also seeking THAAD, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and Kuwait has announced plans for a $900 million upgrade for its U.S.-supplied Patriots.

The Americans are encouraging Riyadh to upgrade its 16 Patriot Advanced Capability-2 batteries, which have 96 missiles, to PAC-3 standard. Some sources say a deal on this has already been pretty much wrapped up.

The fear is, of course, that far from persuading Iran to back off its alleged quest for nuclear weapons these arms deals to its Arab neighbors will only make it feel less secure and reinforce its effort to become a nuclear power.

The United States has never before committed to such an expensive arms buildup for an ally.

The deal, which will be carried out over the next decade, will provide a major boost for the U.S. defense industry at a time of growing unemployment. It involves some 77,000 existing jobs and possibly creating some new ones as well, according to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Electric and others.

The gigantic Saudi arms package also gives U.S. President Barack Obama a major coup ahead of the midterm congressional elections in November.

The U.S. Congress which must approve such military sales is expected to nod the Saudi deal through, although this might not take place until after the elections Nov. 2.

In the past, Israel has opposed such massive military additions to Arab states on the ground they would undermine its technological edge, which the United States has pledged to maintain.

But this time the Israelis have been quiescent because of U.S. assurances Washington won't give the Saudis long-range precision weapons, known as standoff systems, which could threaten the Jewish state.

More importantly, the Israelis, who have been restructuring their armed forces to meet the strategic threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, can expect a steady flow of advanced weapons, such as the new F-35 stealth fighter being developed by Lockheed Martin, possibly even at concessionary prices.

What other military aid the Americans may now come through with, possibly as an inducement to Israel's right-wing government to push Obama's Middle East peace drive forward, remains to be seen.

So, too, does whether Israeli hard-liners will accept the proposition of arming Arab states to the teeth to counter Iran, rather than unleash pre-emptive strikes to knock out Tehran's key nuclear installations.

But even so, as it stands, the arms deal, and those that might follow, demonstrates a remarkable convergence between the strategic concerns of the United States, Israel and the conservative Arab states in the Persian Gulf over Iran's nuclear and expansionist ambitions in the region.

Whether this will translate into a major geopolitical realignment in the Middle East isn't clear. But the arms deal has raised concerns about the militarization of the Gulf Arab States.

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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