AFP: A US F-15 fighter jet takes off in 2009.
Historic arms deals are making their way to the Middle East from the US, UK, Spain and Germany, with the political objective of balancing regional power in favour of Iran’s enemies. The deals’ economic goals arise from Riyad’s willingness to bear the cost burden of western economic debt.
As clashes drew to a close between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Saudi military, it came to light that an arms deal was underway between the US and Saudi Arabia. Observers and military experts believe it to be the largest of its kind in modern history, at an estimated $60bn, to be divided into two phases, the first costing $30bn.
The arms deal came after the so-called sixth war in Yemen and is intended to shore up the capabilities and influence of Riyad – Washington’s largest and most important ally in the Gulf region. This is particularly needed to confront Iran, which played a role in the latter conflict – even if behind the scenes.
As soon as the deal was presented to the US Congress following the midterm elections, it was immediately approved, highlighting its economic significance – “a valuable Saudi gift to Washington at a crucial moment.” It also represented a lifeline for Obama’s economic reform programme.
The British Telegraph estimates that the deal will save around 77,000 jobs while the defence industry in 44 US states will also benefit – led by Arizona, home to Apache production lines, as well as Connecticut and Massachusetts were Black Hawks are manufactured.
According to international reports, it appears that Saudi Arabia is seeking other strategic allies in Europe by signing arms deals with a number of allies, including the UK which is making economic cutbacks, followed by Spain and Germany – each of which landed tank deals with Saudi Arabia.
In parallel agreements in the Middle East, Israel also signed a large arms deal with the US for F-35 jets, stirring much controversy since F-35s far surpass the F-15s planes at the core of the Saudi transaction. Military experts believe that the Israeli deal alone will secure the balance of power in the region ever in favour of Israel.
As news leaked about the deal, controversy erupted at home and abroad due to the animosity between Iran – its regional partners including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Syria – and Israel. These political issues overshadowed the deal, especially since there has been recent talk of linking a peace settlement in the Middle East with the arms deal. The Palestinian Authority, however, turned down the latter proposal outright and any US incentives it included.
The more pertinent question right now is will Saudi Arabia use the arms deal as a point of leverage in the Palestinian issue, as Israel is doing. Most of experts interviewed by Al-Ahram were doubtful since Riyad is not at odds with Tel Aviv, even though Israel ignored a peace initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia almost a decade ago.
Meanwhile, Syria is also attempting to redress its defence capabilities, which, in comparison to Israel, are expectedly not in Damascus’s favour. But experts argue that the weapons flow begins in Tehran and passes through southern Lebanon, before it reaches Damascus. In her hast to acquire arms, Syria proposed a missile deal with Russia but Israel successfully foiled the agreement. A source in Syria’s foreign ministry told Al-Ahram that “Syria is no longer counting on this deal, or its Russian ally.”