Saudi Arms Deal Part of Package on Hagel Mideast Agenda

Published: April 21, 2013

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Patrick W. Ryan | SUSRIS

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laughs with Udi Shani, Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, upon his arrival in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 21, 2013. Hagel will spend several days in Israel meeting with counterparts on a six day trip to the middle east.(Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo) (Released)
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laughs with Udi Shani, Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, upon his arrival in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 21, 2013. (DoD)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel left Washington for the Middle East yesterday for official travel that will take him first to Israel, then Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. As he meets with officials to discuss bilateral issues and regional challenges, including Syria and Iran, a $10 billion package of arms to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel, along with aid for Israel, is in its final stages according to American defense officials. The Jersualem Post quoted one such official Friday, “This not only sustains but augments Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.” He added, “This package is a significant advance for Israel. … This is about giving all three partners in the region added capacity to address key threats that they may face down the road.”

This trip is Hagel’s first travel as Defense Secretary to the Middle East since taking office last month following a hotly contested Senate confirmation, much of which focused on his views and statements about Israel. The question of Hagel and Israel appears to remain sensitive to some.  At a trip background brief Friday defense officials made certain to note, “In the case of Israel, he has been to Israel six times in the past, and he looks forward to expressing once again in that country his personal commitment to our alliance and to Israel’s security.” The briefer described the trip “not just a series of courtesy calls, but as a series of security calls on important allies and partners.”

The April 19th briefing also disclosed the $10 billion arms package, said to have been a result of President Obama directing the Pentagon to increase Israel’s military capabilities in a “significant and meaningful way.” It was called an unprecedented release of capabilities requested by Israel. The defense official added, that, “In doing so, [it also increased] the capabilities of our key partner nations, which are needed to work together to counter any threat.”

The weapons package for Israel was said to include the V-22 Osprey, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft that has been deployed by the US Marines and had, heretofore, not been sold to foreign militaries. Israel will also receive air defense radar and long-range KC-135 refueling tankers.  The Pentagon briefers also provided details about the Saudi and Emirati components of the arms deals:

“The other part of this, which relates to building our partner capacity, our other key gulf allies, who are needed to defend against common threats. And that’s a follow-up in Saudi Arabia, as you know, the Saudis in 2010 agreed to purchase 84 F-15SAs, a deal which had a value of $29.4 billion, and, in fact, you know, last month, the first F-15s rolled off the line in St. Louis in Missouri, and they’re undergoing flight testing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“And so Saudis committed to purchase all 84 of this, but also something that really comes out of the trip is that the Emiratis have — are going to move forward with the purchase of 25 F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcons, and those are manufactured by Lockheed Martin in Ft. Worth, Texas. The expected value of this sale is between $4 billion to $5 billion, just under $5 billion.

“And then as part of these sales, the U.S. is agreeing to deploy standoff weapons to Saudi Arabia and UAE, which are more advanced weaponry than we’ve sold before. And as part of that, a key part of the agreement is — is we believe and the Israelis believe that the provision of these capabilities in no way diminish Israel’s qualitative military edge, but they’re consistent with the more commonly addressable threats in the region.

“And the United States will jointly train with the Emirati and the Saudi pilots, as they have before. And these are great opportunities to do that. There will be enhanced end use monitoring, consistent with what we provide with our sensitive technologies to our other allies and partners around the region and, I think, consultation, of course, prior to any of the weapons’ deployment. We, frankly, expect that — it’s no surprise that the deployment and use of any of these, but the aircraft would be in any joint mission.”

F-15 Eagle Fighter Jet loaded with air-to-ground missiles.
F-15 Eagle Fighter Jet loaded with air-to-ground missiles.

The portion of the arms deal intended for sale to Saudi Arabia was said to be the subject of negotiations over the last nine months, according to Bloomberg.com, which noted a final list of items would be drawn up on the Hagel visit. Last month Lucien Zeigler, writing for SUSTG.org, noted the first of 84 new Boeing F-15SA “Strike Eagle” fighter jets completed a successful flight test as part of a $29.4 billion warplane deal set to begin deliveries in 2015. The new arms sale is said to include an unnamed class of advanced precision air to ground “stand-off” missiles.

At Friday’s briefing the defense official made a point of telling reporters, “This is one of the most complex and carefully orchestrated arms sale packages in American history. And that’s not just because of the kind of equipment that we’re providing to Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. It’s also a reflection of intensive defense shuttle diplomacy.” He added:

“As you can imagine, working with all three of these countries to fashion an important agreement like this is not easy. It’s involved a series of discussions at all levels, including two secretaries of defense with their counterparts, and is reflective, I think, of, you know, the kind of creativity and innovation that we need to address security challenges in the region. On QME [qualitative military edge] very briefly, we think that this not only sustains, but augments Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. This package is a significant advance for Israel. And I equate this to a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s not about relative gains — if you can go back to your international relations theory class — or zero-sum calculations of arms inventory. This is about giving all three partners in the region added capacity to address key threats that they may face down the road.”

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