It will probably be the largest arms deal in the history of the Middle East: Advanced American weapons systems worth a total of about $40 billion will be sold over the next 15 years to America’s allies in the region. The main objective is to create a strategic-military balance vis-à-vis the rise of Iran and curb the erosion in Washington’s regional standing – an erosion that may grow stronger following the withdrawal from Iraq in two or three years' time and that could even threaten the West’s oil supply.
Just like the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, the Americans also know that moderate Arab countries would be unable to deal with Iran on their own and address the Iraqi civil war, even after the arms deals are completed. Yet Washington also knows that those who buy massive quantities of sophisticated American weapons boost their dependency on America when it comes to maintaining and using those weapons.
No less important: Those who buy weapons from America don’t buy arms from Russia and China, which are trying to bolster their influence in the region and partially cooperate with Teheran.
In addition, there is no doubt that the immense profits to be reaped by America’s military industries through these huge deals constitute an important factor in the Bush Administration’s and Republican Party’s considerations. Strategy and money don’t always go well together, yet this time they do.
The question is, of course, how will the deals affect the State of Israel’s security? On the one hand, the selling of sophisticated weapons to Arab armies erodes Israel’s technological-military supremacy and boosts the potential threat against it. This threat is particularly grave at this time, with radical Islam threatening to undermine the stability of secular Arab regimes and the real danger of radicals taking over sophisticated weapons systems.
It happened in Iran and could also happen in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. We should also take into account less extreme scenarios: for example, a radical Muslim pilot from Saudi Arabia or an Egyptian missile boat commander who decide on their own to carry out an attack against us and use a sophisticated and advanced US weapons system to accurately hit strategic Israeli targets.
Yet there’s another side to this coin: In the framework of the Mideastern deal, the US intends to boost the annual military aid granted to Israel by 25 percent. At this time, this aid amounts to $2.4 billion a year. Starting in 2009, Israel will receive an addition of about $900 million per year on average for a period of 10 years, a total of $9 billion.
Such a sum of money is no small matter. In fact, it would enable Israel to transfer to the American taxpayer the costs of developing and purchasing weapons systems that would allow it to better contend with Iranian, Syrian, Hizbullah and even Hamas threats, both defensively and offensively. These threats will increase once Tehran possesses nuclear weapons.
Despite its growing economy, Israel alone doesn’t have the resources needed to fund the proper development and procurement of terribly expensive weapons systems needed to deter the “axis of evil” while quickly and efficiently thwarting attempts to hit the Jewish state. Therefore, the American aid is not merely an option – rather, it’s a necessity that Israel needs under any conditions.
AIPAC’s declining influence
The Bush Administration has not officially conditioned the boosting of military aid to Israel on the latter refraining from attempts aimed at torpedoing the weapons deals with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries in Congress. Indeed, it is highly doubtful whether Israel is even able to do that, in light of AIPAC’s relative decline lately and the strength of the American military-industrial complex lobby.
Yet it’s clear that political efforts to torpedo the grand deal may also delay the provision of boosted aid to Israel. Therefore, Jerusalem must carefully consider whether it should express vocal objection to the provision of sophisticated weapons to the Arabs.
In this context it should be noted that moderate Arab regimes proved in recent years a rather strong capability in addressing radical Muslims. Moreover, the attitude of such regimes (the Saudi royal house, for example) to Israel is changing for the better and Israeli objection to arming them may be interpreted as a hostile act.
In addition, the armies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and also Egypt will be completely dependent on American experts. The more sophisticated the weapons are, the more difficult it is to maintain and operate them. Therefore, instead of focusing on a sweeping attempt to prevent the provision of sophisticated American weapons to those countries, it would be better for Israel to focus on reaching an agreement with the Administration regarding the extent of US command and control over these weapons and training sessions in Arab countries.
For example, it would be enough for the Americans to have control over several critical electronic components in the homing mechanisms and fuses of satellite-guided “smart bombs” and other items in order to neutralize a significant part of the danger they pose to Israel.
Besides, from an Israeli point of view, the danger and also benefit of the Mideastern deal depends to a large extent on the details and fine print of the agreements, which have not yet been finalized with the parties involved. Many weapons systems, should they be provided to Arab countries in a certain manner, do not substantially endanger Israel’s security.
Yet the factor that would truly determine whether this deal is bad or good for the Jews is what we ask for and receive. If we waste the additional American aid on purchasing military uniforms, protective vests, and light weapons, this deal will ultimately undermine our security instead of boosting it.
Yet if we ask the Americans to increase the aid funds that can be converted from dollars to shekels, for the purpose of developing and acquiring unique and advanced Israeli-made systems for countering the missile rocket threat, and if we ask the Americans for systems we do not currently possess, such as huge and accurate bunker-busting bombs, stealth fighter jets, unique missiles, and intelligence gathering means – there is no doubt that in several years our security situation will be better.
After all, it has already been said in the past that God and Satan are in the small details…