US arms sales in the Gulf

Saudi_arabia_king_azizfdr "Washington is striving to assure its Gulf allies concerned by the growing strength of Shi’ite Muslim Iran and the war in Iraq that it is committed to the region and will stand by them, with arms sales being part of that process, U.S. officials say.

Iranian defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the United States was trying to "create a fake arms race in order to make their big arms companies survive," the official IRNA news agency reported.

But he also said countries had the right to buy or make arms to boost their defenses, and suggested military purchases by its Gulf neighbors would not worry the Islamic Republic.

"Iran has no concerns about the strengthening of the defensive capabilities of (other) … Islamic countries and regards their defensive capabilities as part of the capabilities of the Islamic world," Najjar told reporters, according to IRNA."  Yahoo News


The main theme of this set of deals is the desire to do "business" (literally) in the Gulf.  The Arabs have money and we might as well continue to have as much of it as they are willing to part with.  Some Arabs in these countries will benefit from the sales.  There will be a certain amount of the usual paying of "comissions" suitably disguised as something else, somewhere, sometime.

The Chinese, among others, have been pursuing Arab money and Arab investment opportuities all over the Arab World as well in many other places.  The commercial competition from them is intense.

Those involved probably, almost, nearly think this is about Iran.  The ludicrous conception of selling such sophisticated toys to the Saudis is delightful in an Evelyn Waugh kind of way.  Saudi Arabia has a tiny, still poorly educated population.  There is no way that THE KINGDOM can absorb this kind of equipment, but, then, neither can the jihadis.  What will happen to all this "gear?"  It will gather dust and rust somewhere after all the payments, training and posturing are finished.

The symbolism is the thing.  We, the American guarantors of the status quo in the Middle East guarantee to you, the Sunni Arab govenments that we are not going to try to unseat you.  We had our flirtation with radical change, but, well, …  How can you be sure?  Well, if we do, we can’t collect the money.

And, of course, this means that we understand what you have to do in Iraq…

Israel?  They won’t pay for their part of the deal.   pl

This entry was posted in Current Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to US arms sales in the Gulf

  1. Serving Patriot says:

    Yes indeed, Israel will not pay for any of it. Of note, their share rises almost 50% ($3B/yr x 10 yrs) while thier “treaty partner” Egypt will continue to get the same # of $s they have been getting since 1990s ($1.3B/yr x 10yrs). Given inflation, looks like we know WHO we favor in that 3-way deal. Expect the Chinese to continue to press Egypt and others to “diversify” their systems and not tie themselves solely to US-made items.
    BTW, US law requires receipients of military assistance (US taxpayer) money to spend those $ back in the US on US-made stuff. Except for Israel – who gets to spend about 1/3rd of thier “assistance” on thier own arms industry. You know, the industry that sells advanced American weapons technology to our friends in China and India.
    More interesting is how quiet this “deal” has been kept over the past several months…. good corporate welfare for US defense industry – guaranteed laundered subsidy up front just when the congress and taxpayer are starting to question the real level of support DoD needs…

  2. Todd says:

    If your analysis that “[t]here is no way that THE KINGDOM can absorb” the arms package headed their way is correct, I’d suggest an alternative explanation for the deal — arming Israel without further damage to US-“Sunni” relations.
    Granted, this hypothesis is harder to prove, as the devil’s in the details of this deal and the form of additional sales to Israel. And it’s quite possible that the additional sales to Israel are viewed simply as a long-term “sweetener” to the planned sale, and are not a primary objective.

  3. There is no way that THE KINGDOM can absorb this kind of equipment,

    Then why do the Saudis want it?
    Twenty billion dollars could, instead, build quite a few pleasure domes in Xanadu.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You should not think of SA as a monolith.In fact, it is a swirling maelstrom of conflicting factional and personal agendas and interests.
    There will be a lot of money made in this. pl

  5. Tom S says:

    Will Saudi hands ever touch the new systems? Or will those they hire to do the fighting for them us them? Will details of the systems make thir way to parts of the world where we would rather they didn’t?

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I agree with you on “arms” but would add two points. One, to anyone who has watched this maneuver performed a number of times over the years, it’s a charade. However, it’s the technique they use that’s so fascinating. First the State Department says it’s going to sell weapons to the Saudis, and, anticipating an outcry from the friends of Israel in the Congress, they include an arms package for the Israelis, as well. The claim is that Israel is buying these weapons, but as you pint out, Israel doesn’t pay; the arms are gratis. As soon as the sale is announced, Israel’s friends oppose, with a lot of rhetoric, and so, to win them over, more free arms are thrown into the pot for the Israelis. Then, the sale goes through. Who benefits? The arms manufacturers, of course (as well as the Israelis). The arms dealer have just gotten a “twofer”. Two deals for one–they get real money for the arms they sell tothe Saudis and American taxpayer money for the arms “sales” to the Jewish state. The other point is, I don’t think the arms bought by the Saudis rust, by any means. Eventually they bleed out of the system, falling into the hands of America’s enemies. That’s what happened with arms sold to the Shah, after he was overthrown. What are the Iraqi insurgents fighting us with, if not arms the Saudis and Kuwaitis bought for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War.
    Steve Pelletiere”
    I would agree with almost all of this. You can make a case for the materiel we sold the imperial government ending in the hands of the Islamic Republic.
    The Iraqi insurgents are fighting us with the small arms that were everywhre in the cuontry when we arrived. Saddam’s government armed just about everyone who would taccept weapons + there were government arms depots.
    the rest of the stuff the insurgents are using, IED’s etc are just bits of explosive junk engineered together with circuits they take out of consumer electronics, etc. and the plate things the Iranians are giving them.
    Just junk, Ingenious. pl

  7. verc says:

    If we’re going to continue to police the world, we need to get paid. Making the world safe for capitalism is not sufficient compensation for the amount we spend on defense.
    We should start demanding a tribute.

  8. J says:

    wouldn’t it be great if career military and civilian personnel could put together a financial package the way the Israelis do through their lackeys in both the white house and congress. the career military/civilian/taxpayers wind up paying for everything the Israelis buy. the white house and congress dole out the ‘free aid’ to the one Israeli hand. the Israelis do a quick turnaround and then hand it back to the white house/congress saying here is their ‘payment’ for whatever (minus a few dozen fins that the Israelis take off the top and stick in their pockets). just think if career personnel could ‘creative finance’ their retirement packages the way the israelis do their ‘u.s. aid’, maybe retirees wouldn’t have to get a second or third job along with their government retirements just to make ends meet.

  9. Will says:

    Not everybody knows that the Gulf Arabs and the Saudis pay hard cash for their toys and the Israelis get theirs for free.
    Yesterday on NPR, i heard a ditsy female say that Gates was proposing a 20 billion dollar arms package for the Arabians and that Congress may have something to say about this “LARGESSE.” That was the word she used whigh implies gift and her tone of voice clearly conveyed it. I shxt you not.
    Also most of the aircraft would be piloted by American contract crews.

  10. Cold War Zoomie says:

    If I read you correctly, you’re saying that the Saudies don’t have the technical knowhow to maintain this gear we’re selling them. I find this interesting since us overseas contracting types used to flock to SA for the big bucks supporting the weapons systems that they could not. I worked with one guy in particular who spent almost ten years in SA with Bendix and made an absolute mint.
    When I got out of the AF and wanted to board the Saudi gravy train, I was SOL…it had already made its last stop. When I researched where all the lucrative contracting jobs had gone, it looked like SA started demanding that each foreigner doing a technical job would train the locals on how to do it. I also remember vaguely that SA had used oil money to build technical schools that would slowly feed the pipeline of trainees. It appreared by the 1990s that the plan had worked and slots for support personnel like myself had been filled by locals.
    Bottom line, the remaining defense jobs in SA are few and far between, and definitely don’t pay at the same rates they did 20-30 years ago.
    But it sounds like the idea that we would train their folks, leave, and they would take over was just a way to spread the wealth locally rather than actually maintain a force.

  11. walrus says:

    I don’t know quite how to say this, but these new weapons will not work if they fall into “the hands of Americas enemies” or if the Saudis suddenly decide to use their new toys to attack someone we don’t want them to attack.
    You might like to google the phrase “”operational sovereignty”
    That is all.

  12. jonst says:

    Is it your opinion that we as a nation, are, for whatever reason/s, condemned to go through this costly charade because of some inevitable, fundamental, flaw in Byzantium on the Potomac? Or is it your opinion, that this charade, however foolish for all parties to entertain, is just the way things get done, one more tool in the diplomatic arsenal, and, ultimately, its possible (though perhaps doubtful) that some minor tactical good comes of it? Or am I off base on both angles?

  13. Mo says:

    Of course 10% of the arms going to Israel if given to the Lebanese forces, would paint Hizballah into a corner regarding its weapons. But then the army could use those weapons to actually defend Lebanon from Israeli attacks and as much as this administration loves Lebanons newly democracy-loving govt. that isn’t going to be allowed.

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Tom S
    It has gotten a lot harder to use foreigners. The Pakistanis and Bangla Deshis just aren’t as sumissive as they used to be and the Saudis have a memory of the trouble they had with the Khalid bin Waliid armored brigade (all Pakistani) 25 years ago.
    “Also most of the aircraft would be piloted by American contract crews.” That was never true. They have never used foreign pilots extensively except on the AWACS and those were Paki. they don’d have a problem being made into pilots. That is stick and rudder stuff. It is the staff work, logistics and maintenance that they can’t do still.
    They can’t run a modern anything without a lot of foreigners and are afraid to turn combat suystems over to them.
    They can’t use the systems operationally in any sort of sustained effort.
    Both things are true. I think that any world power committed to dominance strategies on a sustainrd basis ends up like this. We actually ar eno worse than many. Look at the mess that the Brits made of much of the world. pl

  15. JohnH says:

    Yes, it sounds like the Iranian defense minister is spot on–it’s just business as usual.
    Pat, do you think this is incremental business, or have the merchants of death been notified that their sales in Iraq will be winding down in the next decade?

  16. Mark G says:


  17. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I think all their instincts point to a need to diversify. pl

  18. Peter Principle says:

    “The symbolism is the thing. We, the American guarantors of the status quo in the Middle East guarantee to you, the Sunni Arab govenments that we are not going to try to unseat you.”
    In other words, we can look at this as the geopolitical equivalent of make-up sex.
    It’s as good an explanation as any, I guess.

  19. David W says:

    I’d like to see a breakdown of the deals for SA/Egypt versus Israel. In my (largely uninformed) opinion, Israel gets a much higher percentage of ‘goodies’ ie. cluster bombs and other offensive weapons, while the Saudis get more defensive systems, like AWACS systems. Last summer’s controversy over the IDF’s usage of these weapons against Lebanon seems forgotten now…
    I think it’s a shell game, playing all sides against each other (US govt. included)–is the pea underneath the Saudi’s cup, or the Israeli cup? Neither–the pea is in the MIC’s hands, awaiting another sucker buyer.
    The answer to all of the rhetorical ‘cui bonos?’ about the war in Iraq is right here. Unfortunately, the US is in the situation of the proverbial business owner who claims, ‘I know that half of my ad budget is wasted–the problem is that I don’t know which half.’

  20. Montag says:

    There’s also the matter of the “prestige” that the arms sale conveys to the Arabs, that they are important to us. Many countries have done stupid things for prestige. The French Maginot Line is a famous example. It allowed the French to boast that they contemplated no offensive warfare, which came back to haunt them when they were unable to launch an offensive to aid Poland.

  21. PeterE says:

    Do we know which American arms manufacturers and middle men will benefit from the arms sales? The press seems to be silent, except for the Wall Street Journal which had an article today on the sale that mentioned two or three possible beneficiaries (I recall Lockheed) but nothing definite. I wonder whether the press ignores these issues, because the arms merchants are actually altruistic, sacrificing profits to patriotism.

  22. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Ike would like this thread.
    Seems to me that the Chinese could displace us in Egypt not that far down the road. A cabinet level official there told a friend of mine a while back, “We don’t need US money.” There are other arms suppliers out and about looking for deals.
    I noticed in my recent visit to the UAE that the Chinese have moved heavily into the building construction supply sector. The Russian mafiya types are buying up real estate, fancy cars, and jewelry.
    Hasn’t there been a strong integration of the US and Israeli defense sectors during the Bush Administration? And now the new trade agreement with the Brits? So then can expect to see the emergence of an Anglo-US-Israeli military industrial complex?

  23. johnf says:

    Gary Sick (sic), political scientist and former National Security advisor, gives his views on this:

  24. According to the Jerusalem Post:

    Israel is looking into reports that Russia plans to sell 250 advanced long-range Sukhoi-30 fighter jets to Iran in an unprecedented billion-dollar deal.
    According to reports, in addition to the fighter jets, Teheran also plans to purchase a number of aerial fuel tankers that are compatible with the Sukhoi and capable of extending its range by thousands of kilometers. Defense officials said the Sukhoi sale would grant Iran long-range offensive capabilities.
    Government officials voiced concern over the reports. They said Russia could be trying to compete with the United States, which announced over the weekend a billion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

  25. LeaNder says:

    “We should start demanding a tribute.”
    Then we should be allowed to vote for the new US president, how about a 1/100 vote for each of us US policed citizens worldwide.

  26. Got A Watch says:

    The MIC must be fed. Even if it’s a stupid idea. Even if the long suffering American taxpayers have to pay so Israel can have more hi-tech arms that they don’t really need unless they are going to fight a real war.
    As the Lebanese found out last year, American cluster bombs are a great spokesman for the “democracy project.”
    “We are actually no worse than many”. A fine bit of moral relativism there. You fail to mention that America is the one always making fine sounding speeches about how democracy and freedom are the goals, and how America is the one who sets the bar in these areas. The dis-connect between the lofty ideals and fine words vs actions grows by the day, and it does not go un-noticed.
    The obvious hypocrisy of America is what really sets America apart. Few other nations have such an endemic swollen ego syndrome, nor do they desire to.
    But the MIC is nearing the end of its windfall profit years, the economic position of the USA is deteriorating to the point where the bloated military budgets will become un-sustainable, and present force levels will have to be reduced. Not just yet, but it is inevitable unless some financial sanity returns to Washington, which is unlikely any time soon.
    Sorry I sound cranky today, but this whole thing just sounds like such a waste of time and taxpayer $.

  27. Serving Patriot says:

    Your friend reports faithfully. In fact, the stuff the PRC sells to Egypt is better for their armed forces than the materials Egypt receives from the US (essentially for free). Chinese weapons systems are simple; made for an technically emerging society; don’t come with a LARGE, foreign support contractor workforce; and relatively cheap. For Egypt – a country hard up on $s and prickly about their sovreignity – the Chinese stuff is just what they need. Even more ironic is how some of it may actually trace back to US systems (via the 51st state).
    The tweaks that the Mubaraks get to give to their sponsor Uncle Sam as a result are an added bonus.
    And of course, the graft is just the same.
    So, how close are the two countries? Find out how many times the Egyptian defense minister visits Beijing and DC. We should not forget how quickly Sadat threw the Soviets out …

  28. Matthew says:

    Col: Isn’t there a bright side here? Maybe the Busheviks have decided for a cold war against Iran, rather than a hot one. Do you also perceive this as evidence of strenght or weakness on our part?

  29. VietnamVet says:

    No doubt a few billion here and there will shore up the coalition against the Iranians; but, to gain what? These weapon systems only blow holes in the sand. Israel and the USA keep skirting around the fact to pacify Arabs, their cities have to be bulldozed flat. Beirut, or Bagdad isn’t sufficient; every city from Tangiers to Jogjakarta has to be flattened in the War Option.
    William Lind is absolutely correct, the only way the USA can pump oil and dry up the jihadist breeding ground is to build a state in Iraq. To dream that an Iraqi state will be a friend of Israel and barrack to invading Christian soldiers is farcical. The only chance for “success” is rapprochement with Iran, a regional framework for peace and US troop withdrawal to the Gulf States.

  30. anna missed says:

    “The symbolism is the thing.
    […] Well, if we do, we can’t collect the money.”
    Considering the (militant) threat these client nations face in the real world, these deals are more like how the potlatch degenerated in late pacific northwest native cultures, where instead of sharing the wealth the chiefs elected to burn it as a display of power. Maybe they should think about doing that instead, seeing how all this fancy stuff is useless against an IED.

  31. J. Michael Hammer says:

    I believe the Saudies buy this stuff to increase their sense of MOJO. At the end of the day, they don’t want their people to know how to use it because it may be turned on them.

  32. b says:

    @D. Kindler – JPost story on “250 Sukhoi fighters to Iran”.
    That story was a rumor lauched by someone at the Paris Air Show in June via Aviation Week.
    It was revived by DEBKA (Mossad) a day before the 30 billon gift of U.S. tax dollars to some 7 million Israelis was published.
    That again was picked up by the neocon JPost and others and now gets recycled in the U.S. media.
    The “truthiness” value of that rumor is likely beween 0% and 10%.
    And people fall for it.
    Links/quotes etc here:

  33. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Serving Patriot,
    Thanks much for your insights. So while the US pushes a “prestige” weapons purchase on the Gulfies, Egypt could well move on in a different direction.
    Egypt necessarily is concerned about the Nile/Sudan/Nile headwaters-basin situation. And we have the Chinese presence in Sudan from which it gets about 8 percent of its imported hydrocarbons.
    How would you (and Col. Lang and “All”) assess what the likely regional consequences would be if the US were dropped “a la russe” by Cairo? I agree entirely with your Soviet analogy, which would also imply an internal political alteration.
    Seems to me that Israeli strategy since the mid-1950s has been to fish in the troubled waters of the Nile Basin targetting Egypt. I suppose the Decider’s concern over Darfur stems from this regional geopolitical game.

  34. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The fundamental flaw is called the “Fall of Man”.

  35. Abu Sinan says:

    My father in law worked as a military attache for the Saudis here in DC for years.
    This equipment will do exactly what all of the previous equipment has done. It will sit in some large warehouse and be maintained by foreigners. It will be seldom used, but often touted.
    There will be much more equipment than the Saudis can ever hope to train their forces to use. In many cases they buy more equipment than they ever have plans to use.
    The will let everyone know how much money they have spent to protect the Kingdom, but if anything comes about it will be exactly like the first Gulf war and they will let the Americans and the West protect them and the oil supply.
    Billions of dollars will be made by those in the right places, think of the billion or so racked up by Prince Bandar and you have an idea of what is going on.
    There are large warehouse all over Saudi housing decades of this same material, much of it never used, not even in a training capacity.
    Saudis are not keen on joining the military, especially the army as it is seen as work not fit.
    It will be such a massive waste of money it is mind bogling.

  36. Montag says:

    I read an interview with the Turk who was an official with the UN forces in South Lebanon for decades. He said the weapons procurement practices of the PLO and Hizbullah were like night and day. Before the Israeli invasion in 1982 the PLO delighted in procuring weapons that they had no use for, just for the prestige. At one point his Father, who was in the Turkish military was visiting him and his eyes bugged out when he saw the PLO driving around in trucks with anti-aircraft guns on the back. His son explained that, “They only use them to drive around and pick up girls with.” When the Israelis invaded they gleefully went to the storage areas and carted the weapons off.
    Hizbullah, on the other hand, has social welfare expenses as well. So when they buy weapons they darn well intend to use them and have an integrated plan for doing so. And they’ve learned from the PLO’s mistake of advertising their weapons caches. Everything is on a need to know basis. You can judge for yourself who is giving the IDF hissy fits.
    Indeed, the Israeli Admiral in command of their Navy just resigned prematurely, because he didn’t think that Hizbullah had anti-ship missiles until one of his ships got hit by one. Proving that “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,” much the same thing happened to the INS Elat in October, 1967–it ate four guided missiles from the Egyptian Navy that the IDF had “misunderestimated.”

  37. no fortunate son says:

    Col. Lang,
    Totally OT: I am reading the latest edition of Keylor’s
    The Twentieth Century and Beyond: an international history since 1900 and on its cover is a photgraph which includes the image at the top of your column. FDR is obvious, but unfortunately the other men are not identified anywhere in the book as far as I can tell.
    The larger photo includes two more men in uniforms and a man in a white coat who may be a steward. Do you know the photo I am describing and can you identify the occasion and the officers, including the man with his back to the camera?

  38. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Send me the picture. pl

  39. Curious says:

    Page 2 of 2
    The Saudi arms deal: Why now?
    By Dan Smith
    fact, Congress had already expressed its frustration about Riyadh’s failure to be more actively engaged in furthering US (and therefore implicitly Saudi) objectives.
    In fiscal years 2005 and 2006, Congress had directed that Saudi Arabia was not to receive any funds in the State Department’s foreign-operations appropriation. But as usual, the legislation contained an escape clause: the ban against assistance became
    moot if the president certified that the Saudis were cooperating in the “war on terror”. Much to the dismay of many in Congress, Bush so certified each year.
    An unanswered question about the proposed arms deal is: Why now? Had the administration moved before November 2003, the announcement would have been seen in the region as an audacious – given the “success” of US-led coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq – but credible recommitment by Washington to the then-25-year-old policy of diplomatic, economic, and military (conventional and nuclear) containment of Tehran’s ambitions in the Persian Gulf by increasing Riyadh’s military stance.
    But looking at the Saudi record and Riyadh’s increasing propensity to act in its own interests without coordinating with Washington, there is the suggestion that the Bush administration is suddenly wary of its “other” flank in the Persian Gulf – the one occupied by the Saudi-dominated six-member Gulf Cooperation Council. Militarily overcommitted in midsummer, the White House has only two cards to play: pump up fear of Iran acquiring enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon, or bribe the regional allies.
    For a few months the nuclear fear factor seemed to work, but Tehran seems to have become “reasonable” enough in its position to defuse tensions with most of the main actors in this dispute. This left the Bush administration with bribery, spiced with a touch of traditional Sunni-Shi’ite sectarianism that underpins relations between Riyadh and Tehran even when they cooperate (eg, the just-formed Iraq security subcommittee that will consider steps to reduce the influx of weapons and fighters into Iraq from Iran).
    This also explains the visit last week by the US secretary of state and the secretary of defense to the region on an old-fashioned, bribe-them-first-then-twist-arms, whistle-stop campaign to make sure regional “allies” – this time including the Saudis – are in line behind US policy.
    Inconvenient inconsistencies
    But the multibillion-dollar arms deal has some inconsistencies that could cause the two secretaries problems. The most immediate one is the policy message represented by the sheer size of the arms deal.
    Washington has been insisting that there is no military solution to the region’s trauma. Yet it is proposing not only $20 billion in weapons to the Saudis but another $13 billion to Egypt and $30 billion to Israel – a total of $63 billion for weapons in a part of the world already awash in modern arms. And this total apparently doesn’t include $40 million in guns, bullets, rockets, missiles, small-arms ammunition, night-vision goggles, and spare parts for the Lebanese Army this year and another $280 million for 2008. Nor does it include the $3 billion Iraq is spending on weapons and ammunition – all of which are contributing to the current mayhem in these two countries.
    Nonetheless, since Israel has already said it will not oppose the sale, it is unlikely that Congress will vote to block it or even to amend it. As for the Pentagon, it hopes to save money through economy of scale for items produced for either the Saudis or Israelis. And of course US companies that build weapons and munitions are pleased at the prospect of new contracts and new profits.
    The irony in this whole affair is that Bush started the Iraq war over weapons that never existed and that have not been used since 1945. Now his administration seems to think the way to end the war is to make sure that there are more weapons – ones that kill thousands every day. Go figure!

  40. jgarbuz says:

    The facts are, that the US sells ISrael’s enemies 2.5 to 3 times in dollar terms as it gives or sells to Israel. In fact, the MAIN reason that Israel gets any aid at all is so that the US defense industries can be free to sell Israel’s enemies as much as they want. If the US ended aid to Israel, it would be forced politically to end arms sales to the Arab states as well. Of the $8 billion in arms the US sells into the ME annually, about $2.5 B goes to Israel, and the rest (about 5.5 B) goes to ISrael’s enemies. And 3/4s of all the aid given to both Israel and Egypt goes directly to the US defense industries and its workers and never leaves US shores.
    The US also knows that if it ended all US aid to Israel, that Israel could easily make up the $3 B in its own sophisticated arms sales to China or Taiwan and India, et al. IN other words, Israeli competition with US arms makers would increase rapidly. Israel is already the 3rd largest arms exporter after Russia.

Comments are closed.