Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are included in an billion air defense package between the US and Iraq. (US Marine Corps)
TEL AVIV — The Pentagon has notified Congress of US $13 billion in prospective Middle East arms deals over the past 10 weeks, with Saudi Arabia and Iraq leading the administration’s summertime manifest with $10 billion in pre-approved sales of defense equipment and services.
Since mid-June, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress of $6.4 billion in potential defense trade with Saudi Arabia, including a $4 billion National Guard modernization program, new Mark V patrol boats and follow-on support for the Royal Saudi Air Force.
In Iraq, DSCS notified Congress of $4.7 billion in possible sales, including a $2.4 billion integrated air defense system and $900 million worth of Stryker vehicles configured for nonconventional warfare scenarios.
During the same period, it informed Congress of a potential $1.1 billion early warning radar deal to Qatar; a $588 million package of C-130J airlifters to Libya and $200 million to support Kuwait’s fleet of F/A-18 fighters.
All the prospective deals, according to DSCA, advance US foreign policy and national security interests and would “not alter the basic military balance in the region.”
In a region recoiling from one of the bloodiest summers in recent memory, the prospective US arms sales aim to bolster US-friendly regimes against the looming Iranian nuclear threat as well as terror and sectarian insurgencies that threaten regional stability, said Ed Ross, a former DSCA director of operations.
“Most of our sales were originally intended to beef up deterrence vis-a-vis Iran. But after the Arab spring, summer, fall and winter, the focus is not only in deterring regional war, but in helping our friends and partners defend themselves from instability,” Ross said.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, DSCA stated that potential sales aim to make “a key regional ally and partner in the international fight against terrorism ... more capable of defeating those who would threaten regional stability.”
As for Iraq, a pre-approved, potential $2.4 billion integrated air defense package aims to “reduce its vulnerability to air attacks and also enhance interoperability between the Government of Iraq, the US and other allies.” According to DSCA, the package includes 40 Avenger fire units, 681 Stinger missiles, Hawk XXI batteries, various radars, communications gear and command-and-control systems.
Additionally, DSCA said the potential $900 million sale of 50 M1135 WMD-configured Strykers would contribute to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty by increasing its situational awareness and ability to identify potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents.
The summertime roster of potential Mideast arms sales does not mean such sales have been concluded, but it does indicate their prior coordination and approval with key congressional aides and committee staff.
Under US law, proposed sales can be overturned only through a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress.
In an interview last month, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, said Israel would not oppose US arms sales to the Middle East, despite Israeli concerns over their collective impact over time on Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
Instead, Oren said Israel will continue to work with the executive branch and Congress to enhance US security assistance to Israel and bilateral strategic cooperation.
“We understand that if America doesn’t sell these weapons, others will. We also understand the fact that each of these sales contributes to hundreds or thousands of American jobs,” Oren said.
Ross, the former, longtime DSCA official, noted that foreign military sales have assumed a higher priority in the current US budget climate, when sequestration-mandated cuts impact high-priority procurement programs.
“[The Defense Department] is more inclined to look favorably on foreign military sales as a way to achieve economies of scale,” he said.