DUBAI and WASHINGTON — The US State Department has facilitated $33 billion worth of weapons sales to its Arab Gulf allies since May 2015, according to department figures.
The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have received weapons including ballistic missile defense capabilities, attack helicopters, advanced frigates and anti-armor missiles, according to David McKeeby, a spokesman the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
"Consistent with the commitments we made to our Gulf partners at the Camp David summit last May, we have made every effort to expedite sales. Since then, the State and Defense departments have authorized more than $33 billion in defense sales to the 6 Gulf Coordination Council countries," McKeeby told Defense News.
"In addition, the U.S. government and industry also delivered 4,500 precision-guided munitions to the GCC countries in 2015, including 1,500 taken directly from U.S. military stocks — a significant action given our military's own needs," he added.
McKeeby stressed that the US government would like to continue to strengthen partnerships with Kuwait and Qatar through defense sales and other security cooperation activities.
The two Gulf countries have been waiting approvals to purchase 40 F/A-18 Super Hornets and 72 F-15 Silent Eagles to Qatar. Both sales have spent two years in processing, leading some members of Congress to question if the Obama administration is purposefully holding up the sales.
In response, the State Department has emphasized the relationship between those two nations and the United States, including pointing out that Qatar was the largest customer of the United States for foreign military sales in 2014, purchasing more than $10 billion in advanced military equipment such as Apache helicopters, Patriot missile defense systems and Javelin missiles. Qatar also purchased eight C-17s and four C-130Js via direct commercial sale that year.
A top State Department official told Defense News on Tuesday that the approval for fighter sales to Kuwait and Qatar are not being held up because of Israel's pending military financing agreement with the US.
Asked specifically if the fighter sales are being held up because of the pending Israeli deal, Rose Gottemoeller, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, said: "No. It's not. It's not tied."
"They happen to be in, kind of, the same parallel space, but they're not tied together," she added.
When asked how she is communicating that message to Kuwait and Qatar, Gottemoeller said: "All we can do is keep talking to them."
Sources in Kuwait and Qatar have told Defense News they believe that Israel is holding up the sales; that belief is backed by Israeli sources confirming that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lodged concerns about the weapons sales to Arab Gulf countries, although those concerns are more heavily focused on denying Qatar the F-15s than on Kuwait.
McKeeby said that under US law, every sale in the region is done through the lens of Israel's qualitative military edge and it would not approve a sale that could undermine Israel's edge.
"In our view, U.S. equipment and our strong bilateral relationships with other countries in the region both help to ultimately protect Israel's qualitative military edge," he said.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.