The Bush Administration's decision to grant Israel a military aid package totaling $30 billion over the next few years, should be viewed as part of the traditional American commitment to Israel's security but also as a means to diffuse the objections by many members of Congress to the massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
According to reports, the deal will comprise satellite guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), upgrading of war planes and new warships.
Using Israel as "joker" in the Administration's Mideast card game, or in other words a "package deal" combining the arms deal to Saudi Arabia and the defense grant to Israel, doesn't work in our favor - neither from the standpoint of Congress and American public opinion nor from the standpoint of maintaining our advantage vis-à-vis the Arab world, particularly as on this "happy occasion" Egypt is also set to receive military aid totaling $13 billion. Arms to Egypt will include among other things, AIM-9X missiles which may be detrimental to Israel's relative advantage against it.
The grant Washington announced last week is in fact the continuation of the military aid Israel has been receiving for the past 10 years according to the formula agreed upon during Netanyahu's government, and in which in face of a gradual decrease of unpopular civilian aid, military aid would be increased, which is far more acceptable. The fact that the Administration is about to continue granting Israel defense aid more or less according to the previous level was known even prior to the prime minister's recent visit to Washington, yet the fact that the US has once against taken upon itself a perennial commitment is a most welcome development.
The grant to Israel has been bundled with the arms deal to Saudi Arabia in order to neutralize the growing discontent prevalent in Congress and among American public opinion to the fact that much of the Sunni terror in Iraq and Islamic terror in general can be traced to Saudi Arabia.
The US Administration has also found itself in a very uncomfortable situation regarding the US's traditional ties with Saudi Arabia. Washington has still not forgotten King Abdullah's statement "that the occupation in Iraq is illegal," just as the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas, presided over by the Saudis, continues to spark the Administration's ire.
There is also no indication that Saudi Arabia is willing to comply with Washington's pleas to recognize Israel. On the contrary, Amr Moussa the Secretary-General of the League of Arab Nations unequivocally clarified that the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan who recently visited Israel did not do so on behalf of the Arab League (that is including Saudi Arabia), as presented by various Israeli spokespersons and commentators, but rather on behalf of their own countries only.
Last week's visit to Riyadh by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates was aimed therefore at smoothing things over. It was an attempt to bridge between the US's and the Saudi petrol kingdom's often opposing interests and tendencies. One of the elements of the American strategy to appease the Saudis is the arms acquisition package which is being officially presented as a means to counter the Iranian threat, the second element is the American plan to convene an international conference on the Palestinian question in the autumn. One of the conference's objectives is to coerce Israel to accept the "Arab peace plan," initiated by Saudi king Abdullah, as a prerequisite for renewing the peace process.
A hint of this intention can be found in Rice's statement in which she "advised" Israel as to what its diplomatic priorities should be.
Zalman Shoval is a former ambassador to the US.