Saudi arms deal set for smooth US passage
SOURCE: Financial Times
By Daniel Dombey in Washington and Jeremy Lemer in New York
Published: August 17 2010 20:01 | Last updated: August 17 2010 20:01
One of the largest arms deals in US history, involving the sale of weaponry worth some $60bn to Saudi Arabia, is likely to go through Congress without significant objections, according to people on Capitol Hill.
The deal would include 84 Boeing F-15 fighter aircraft along with Blackhawk and Apache helicopters. People knowledgeable about the deal say a big factor smoothing its passage is Israel’s relatively relaxed position, at a time when it and Saudi Arabia are both focusing on a possible threat from Iran.
“The lack of Israeli opposition is very telling,” said a congressional staffer, who said he had not detected any groundswell of opposition. “I don’t think there is going to be a sense when people look at this, for all the immense nature of the transaction, that it represents much in terms of a real threat to Israel.”
Although some people say the $60bn (€47bn, £38bn) figure is merely indicative – in 2007 the Bush administration announced $20bn in exports to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, not all of which have been carried out – the sale would represent thousands of jobs at a time when the US is struggling with unemployment at almost 10 per cent.
The transaction is likely to be divided into four packages – one for the F-15s and three for the helicopters. It is already the focus of preliminary consultations on Capitol Hill.
But a formal notification to Congress, which would then have 30 days to pass legislation preventing the sale, is unlikely before next month.
The initial response contrasts with the storm three decades ago over Ronald Reagan’s plan to sell Awacs early warning aircraft to Saudi Arabia, a move which was widely opposed on Capitol Hill.
It also comes after private US warnings to Turkey that its position on Iran and Israel could endanger congressional backing for weapons purchases sought by Ankara. In June, Turkey used its membership of the United Nations Security Council to vote against imposing more sanctions on Iran.
Saudi Arabia, by contrast, has registered much more concern about Iran’s progress towards nuclear weapons capability, in Washington’s eyes. Riyadh fears that a nuclear-armed Iran would be much more assertive in the Gulf. Such worries chime with Israel’s stance, which depicts a possible Iranian bomb as an “existential threat”.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, has received US assurances that the F-15s will not be equipped with cutting-edge technology. Diplomats say the US has also promised Israel full information about the Saudi purchases. They add that, by the time the F-15s are delivered, Israel will have possession of F-35 joint strike fighters, which are more capable.
“We have had constructive talks with the US and everything was done in the framework maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge,” said an Israeli official.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobby groups, has not signalled its view on the deal.