The United States plans to sell F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, but made clear to an anxious Israel that it won’t include long-range weapons systems.
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the Obama administration said it would sell 84 F-15 planes to Saudi Arabia in a 10-year, $30 billion deal.
U.S. officials clarified to Israeli officials who expressed concerns that this would undermine Israel’s military advantage in the region that the deal would not include long-range weapons systems or other arms.
The officials made it clear that Washington did not make changes to the deal at Israel’s request. Haaretz reported that Israeli fears were assuaged after U.S. officials clarified the details.
Israel and Washington have held meetings over the past 18 months on maintaining Israel’s security advantage in the Middle East. The Saudi deal, which the Obama administration is expected to formally announce next month, had been a source of tension at many of the meetings, according to the Journal.
Israeli officials reportedly will not lobby Congress to stop the deal; Congress has the power to block any weapons sales it thinks might pose a threat to Israel’s military advantage.
The Obama administration wants to sell advanced weapons to Middle Eastern countries as a way to check Iranian power, and the Saudi deal would be one of the largest of its kind.
Saudi Arabia has become one of the top weapons buyers in the world.
Several weeks ago it was widely reported that Israel and the U.S. were nearing a $3 billion deal that would see Israel buying 19 advanced F-35 warplanes that would give it a significant military advantage.
The F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, is a far more sophisticated plane than the F-15. Lockheed Martin has promoted the F-35 as the centerpiece for 21st century global security while strengthening international political and industrial partnerships.
The fighter plane combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.
And, Lockheed Martin has said, it could start delivering the F-35 as early as 2015, around the same time the Saudis would begin to get new F-15s. Thus, the Saudis would get their advanced F-15s while Israel would be provided at the same time with a much more sophisticated F-35 and retain its military advantage.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Washington a few weeks ago in order to discuss the Saudi deal with U.S. officials.
“There are considerations in Washington about moving forward with major deals with our neighbors and we want to make sure that we are in an understanding with the [Obama] administration,” said Barak during the visit.
“We understand the American need, under the strategy of the administration, to strengthen the moderate Arab countries facing the same threat from hegemonic Iran. But, at the same time, we have a tradition of understanding with [U.S.] administrations to keep Israel’s superiority in weapons systems and munitions.”
(JTA, INN and Jewish Press staff)