Published in Israel Hayom, January 1, 2012.
The US is pouring more than $100 billion worth of arms into the Middle East as part of an accelerating military buildup presumably meant to counter Iran. While it’s nice to think that the Obama administration might actually be getting ready to confront Iran, you have to question the wisdom of dumping sophisticated weapons systems into the currently turbulent and rapidly Islamicizing Mideast.
”This (arms) sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the gulf and the broader Middle East,” said Andrew Shapiro, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, as he announced the sale of F-15 fighter jets valued at nearly $30 billion to the Saudi Air Force. ”It will enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to deter and defend against external threats to its sovereignty.”
Yeah, right. As if the Saudis are ever going to be able to defend themselves against Iran!
I’m more worried about the possibility of blowback: that these weapons will end up one day in the hands of radical forces that could use them against Western interests and against Israel.
The arms sales announced by Washington in December alone include 84 F-15s to Riyadh (which is part of 10-year, $60 billion weapons package for Saudi Arabia that Congress approved last year); $1.7 billion to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s Patriot anti-missile missiles; $3.5 billion in advanced anti-missile interception systems to the United Arab Emirates (marking the first foreign sale of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system designed to destroy short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles); $1 billion in Patriot missiles to Kuwait; $304 million in “bunker buster” bombs and other munitions to the UAE; nearly $11 billion for 36 F-16s, M1A1 Abrams tanks, cannons and armored personnel carriers for Iraq; and most surprisingly, $30 billion in arms for Egypt.
The arms sales to Iraq and Egypt deserve the greatest scrutiny. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to be moving to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the US-backed power-sharing government. Iran has great influence in post-American Iraqi politics. As violence rises in Iraq, many analysts see great risks that US-supplied weapons may be misused to crush dissident minorities. They could even yet fall into Iranian hands.
The emerging Moslem Brotherhood state in Egypt is an even more questionable candidate for new American arms. While the US (and Israel) have a long-standing, amicable working relationship with the Egyptian military, nobody knows how ridden with Islamists the army has become or how long the military will truly be able to hold onto power. The Egyptian parliament will clearly have an Islamic party majority, and there will be constant pressure to reorient Egyptian foreign and defense policy away from alliance with America and Israel.
In the meantime, the military is raiding the offices of pro-democracy and human rights groups. Last week, the military raided the offices of the US-based International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, which are loosely associated with the US Democratic and Republican political parties and receive US government funding.
So with Egyptian democracy and its military both extremely suspect as partners for the future; and with the central government losing control over significant parts of the country (including Sinai) – is it really smart to be selling Egypt more jets and tanks?
As chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee throughout most of the 1990s, Yuval Steinitz ran a one-man campaign protesting the accelerated and dangerous Egyptian military buildup. One day, Steinitz, warned, both America and Israel will be sorry that the Egyptian military was stocking-up with Washington’s top-level weaponry. It’s not too late to heed Steinitz’s prescient counsel now.