The Obama administration notified Congress today of a “a significant defense package that will promote regional security and enhance the defensive capabilities of an important Gulf partner with whom we have had a longstanding and close security relationship.” The deal with Saudi Arabia, worth up to $60 billion, will become one of the largest-ever single US arms deals.
The State Department and Pentagon informed lawmakers that the delivery of weapons would be spread over 15-20 years. Weapons systems include 84 new F-15 fighter jets, 70 upgrades of existing Saudi F-15s, 70 Apache attack helicopters, and 72 Black Hawk helicopters as well as a wide array of missiles, bombs, launchers and equipment.
Andrea Shalal-Esa notes that in these tough economic times, with increasing budgetary pressure on both the US and Europe, US defense firms have begun to look to the Middle East and Asia for continued weapons sales in the coming years. This particular deal might help to offset the UK’s decision to trade its planned buy of 138 F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the F-35C carrier variant.
While Congress has 30 days to block the deal, it seems unlikely that they will. “Congress is a big place and there’s a lot of members, and there may be differing opinions about the sale,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, “but we feel comfortable that we have done adequate pre-consultations with members of Congress that there will not be a barrier to completing this sale.”
And don’t expect any flack from Israel. While it has not been stated directly, the deal has been widely acknowledged as a move to counter the perceived threat of Iran to its neighbors. Israel has traditionally been wary of arms sales to nearby Arab countries, but in this moment of uncertainty, the rules have changed. Israeli strategists now predominantly consider Iran, rather than the Arab countries, to be the greatest external threat to Israel’s security. Some rumors have even speculated that Saudi Arabia has already granted Israel permission to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
On the question of “where these arms may be in 10 or 20 or 30 years’ time?” Shapiro remarked that after extensive review, the administration is, “comfortable that this sale will serve to enhance U.S. national security.”