Photo Credit: WH.gov / POTUS Abroad
US President Donald Trump meet with Saudi Arabian leaders in Riyadh, May 20, 2017

The huge 10-year $380 billion U.S.-Saudi agreement announced this past weekend raises serious concerns as to the how Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (“QME”) will be impacted by the deal’s massive weapons sales to the Saudi Kingdom.  U.S. law provides that assuring Israel’s QME is vital to U.S. security, and requires certification that a sale or export of major defense equipment to a country in the Middle East will not adversely affect Israel’s QME.  Israel should be furnished with any needed upgrades to assure that her QME is not impaired by the Saudi sale.

The U.S.-Saudi agreement includes $110 billion of U.S. sales to Saudi Arabia of advanced, sophisticated military equipment, including: tanks; artillery; counter-mortar radars; aerostats; armored personnel carriers; helicopters; Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships; patrol boats; air transport systems; intelligence-gathering aircraft; Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) air and anti-ballistic missile defense systems; cybersecurity and communications equipment; and associated weapons systems, sustainment and training.  (“U.S. State Dept.: Supporting Saudi Arabia’s Defense Needs Fact Sheet,” May 20, 2017.)

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In addition, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister explained that the deal will also involve “building up [Saudi Arabia’s] defense manufacturing capability.”  (“Rex Tillerson Remarks With Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at a Press Availability,” Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” U.S. State Dept. website, May 20, 2017.)

ZOA appreciates and echoes the good U.S. intentions related to the weapons sale to the Saudi Kingdom.  As Secretary Tillerson put it, the deal is intended to enhance the Saudis’ ability to counteract and combat “malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia’s borders” and to bolster the Saudi Kingdom’s ability to “contribut[e] to counterterrorism operations across the region.”  (Id.)  In the wake of the prior U.S. administration’s catastrophic Iran deal, Iran’s malign influence is expanding, and ZOA, of course, favors efforts to curb Iran.

“This is a matter that really should trouble us… because Saudi Arabia is still a hostile country without any diplomatic relations and nobody knows what the future will be.”

On the other hand, U.S. arms provided to Middle Eastern nations with the best of intentions have too often end up being turned against U.S. forces and our allies.  This possibility must also be considered here.  This is particularly so because the deal ultimately relies on the rather thin reed of “trust.”  During his joint press conference regarding the deal, Secretary Tillerson acknowledged that the “growing partnership [with Saudi Arabia] is really grounded in trust, trust between our two nations that we are pursuing the same objectives.”  (Id.)  Objectives can change in a flash in the volatile Middle East.

In recent years, Saudi-Israeli cooperation stemming from mutual concerns about Iran has been quietly developing.  Nonetheless, hostile Saudi actions towards Israel persist.  For instance, Saudi Arabia still boycotts Israeli goods and services; backs a so-called “Arab Peace Initiative” that is a blueprint for Israel’s destruction; and denies entry to visitors who have Israeli stamps in their passports.  The potential for Saudi weapons being turned on Israel clearly exists, and our stable ally Israel must be prepared for this.

Israel is understandably concerned.  Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz stated regarding the Saudi arms deal: “This is a matter that really should trouble us… We have also to make sure that those hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia will not, by any means, erode Israel’s qualitative edge, because Saudi Arabia is still a hostile country without any diplomatic relations and nobody knows what the future will be.”  (“Trump’s Saudi Weapons Deal May Worry Israel,” by Reuters, May 21, 2017.)

Top U.S. officials have confirmed that maintaining Israel’s QME is “critical to regional stability and as a result is fundamentally a core interest of the United States.”  (See ZOA: Pres. Obama Questions Providing Qualitative Military Edge for Israel; [But] Assuring Israel’s QME is Also the Law, and Vital to U.S. Security,” Mar. 16, 2016.)

Federal law on military exports, 22 U.S. Code § 2776(h), thus requires, inter alia, detailed evaluation and certification of “Israel’s capacity to respond to the improved regional capabilities provided by such sale or export” and “identification of any specific new capacity, capabilities, or training that Israel may require to address the regional or country-specific capabilities provided by such sale or export.”

“Qualitative military edge’’ analysis looks at the combined capabilities of all other Middle Eastern states and non-state actors.  (QME means the ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damages and casualties, through the use of superior military means, possessed in sufficient quantity, including weapons, command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that in their technical characteristics are superior in capability to those of such other individual or possible coalition of states or non-state actors.)  The U.S.-Saudi arms deal may very well alter the combined balance of power in the Middle East.

ZOA thus urges careful analysis of the impact of the U.S.-Saudi arms deal on Israel’s QME.  The U.S. should provide Israel with any military enhancements needed to assure Israel’s QME in the wake of the U.S.-Saudi deal.

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