Israel will still have a “qualitative military edge”
The US is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion dollars, according to senior White House officials quoted in the media. The package is expected to include American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security.
President Trump is expected to announce the deal during his visit to Saudi Arabia next week – his first overseas trip since becoming President.
“These deals cement the relations (between the two countries),” Joshua Teitelbaum, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University told the Media Line. “It’s not just “see you, goodbye,” it’s maintenance, training and ammunition.”
The large weapons deals will also provide American manufacturing jobs, helping Trump fulfill one of his early campaign promises to create more US jobs. The fact that Trump chose Saudi Arabia and Israel for his first overseas trip shows the importance of the region to him.
Teitelbaum cautioned that some of the deals that will be announced were already in the pipeline. Media reports say it will include a THAAD missile defense system as well as new combat vehicles.
The announcement of the new arms sales comes after the Obama Administration was preparing to halt some planned arms sales to Saudi Arabia over concerns of high civilian death tolls in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which is backed by the US.
Beyond the meeting with Saudi government officials, Trump will meet 56 Arab and Muslim leaders to discuss combating extremism and how to crack down on illicit financing.
He will then travel to Jerusalem, where they will be carefully watching his meetings in Saudi Arabia. In the early 1980’s Israeli officials protested when the US sold early warning AWACS systems to Saudi Arabia. But times have changed and Israel is not expected to protest against this sale.
“The US always assures Israel that it maintains a “qualitative military edge”, Teitelbaum said. “Often Israel is involved in the background of these deals. The US will reassure Israel or say “you’re going to get something better.”
It also comes amid a convergence of interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran.
“The contacts between Israel and Saudi Arabia are becoming more and more open and the background is the Iranian threat,” Emily Landau, an expert on arms control at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University told The Media Line. “There is a clear mutual interest.”
President Obama was seen by both Israel and Saudi Arabia as being too soft on Iran, and officials in both Israel and Saudi Arabia strongly opposed the Iranian nuclear deal, which gives Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curtailing its nuclear program. Candidate Trump promised to rip up that deal if elected, which has not yet happened, but officials in both Israel and Saudi Arabia see a new direction.
Israeli and Saudi officials have begun meeting more publicly. In 2015, then head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Dore Gold met retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki, who later visited Israel.
The public meetings and the growing ties come as Saudi Arabia continues to back its 2002 peace plan. That plan, also called the Arab Peace Initiative, calls for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, and find a “just” solution for Palestinian refugees in exchange for peace with dozens of Arab and Muslim countries.
Trump will meet the Israeli and Palestinian leaders during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority and there were reports there would be a three-way summit including Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Those reports have been pulled back somewhat, as Trump plans his first Mideast trip.