Jerusalem – Less than a week after Saudi Arabia threatened military action against Israel if it would not accept the Saudi diplomatic initiative, The Middle East Newsline has also broken the story that the Bush administration has sought to conclude an agreement for a major U.S. weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.
The officials said the administration has been negotiating with Saudi Arabia for up to $10 billion in weapons, including new advanced platforms such as the F-15 and F-16. They said the negotiations have been stuck over the Saudi refusal to accept any restrictions on the use of the U.S. weapons.
“The Saudis have insisted on obtaining the same conditions that they are getting from the Europeans,” an official said. “And the Europeans are offering top weapons without any restrictions.”
These arms negotiations concern a range of new weapons systems never introduced in the Arab world. They said the Saudis have demanded the latest models of the F-15, F-16 fighter-jets, advanced air-to-ground weapons and so-called unidentified black box technology meant for platform upgrades.
“They want deep-strike capabilities that would give the Saudis capability to attack over the water,” the official said. “The U.S. Navy has grown suspicious over such a request, saying that if Saudi Arabia falls, then our aircraft carriers could be attacked.”
Middle East Newsline has also learned that U.S. intelligence has warned against major arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council states. The intelligence assessment concluded that the Saudi and other GCC regimes have become increasingly unstable.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the Bush administration discussed arms sales with Saudi Arabia and other unidentified GCC states.
McCormack said the GCC states require the new weapons to face challenges in the Gulf.
“We are working with Saudi Arabia, and states in the Gulf, on their particular defensive needs given the strategic challenges in the Gulf,” McCormack said. “This is also a subject of discussion with the Congress. I would describe it as an ongoing discussion. There are no final decisions yet.”
In 2006, the Bush administration approved about $10 billion of Saudi arms requests from the United States. The requests included main battle tanks, combat vehicles, upgrades and aircraft systems.
McCormack said the United States has moved to supply the PAC-3 missile defense system to Saudi Arabia. He said the administration has been processing several defense requests from Riyadh.
“We’ve already taken some steps in terms of providing Patriot PAC-3 missile systems to help address what the states in that region perceive as a very real threat,” McCormack said. “There are other stages to the various requests that have come in. We’re considering those at the moment.”
Several U.S. newspapers report Israel has objected to the U.S. weapons sale to Riyadh. The Boston Globe and the New York Times said Israel has expressed concern that the Saudi weapons would erode the qualitative edge of the Jewish state against its Arab neighbors.
We are committed to Israel’s security,” McCormack said. “We also are committed to our historical relationships, good, strong relationships with other states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.”
Yet other officials have informed Middle East Newsline that the main opposition to the arms sale to Saudi Arabia stems from the Defense Department and the U.S. military.
They said that under the Saudi request, the Arab kingdom would acquire new capabilities that could be exploited by rogue Islamic elements against the United States in the Gulf, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
In 2005, the Pentagon determined that Saudi Arabia violated the terms of the U.S. export of the F-15. Officials said the Royal Saudi Air Force flew F-15E fighter-jets in the northeastern kingdom near the border with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and housed such platforms in the air base in Tabouk.
“It’s simply easier for circles in the White House and State to blame” Israel rather than raise U.S. concerns against a completely unrestricted weapons sale to Saudi,” another official said.
U.S. Holds Unprecedented Dialogue With
Middle East Newsline has confirmed a report that the United States has been quietly holding a dialogue with the banned Islamic Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the organization that took credit for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and which also supported the Hezbollah missile attacks on Israel last summer.
American officials have been meeting members of the Islamic opposition in Alexandria and Cairo. They said the meetings, which focused on the positions of the Islamic Brotherhood and the future of Egypt, have usually taken place at the U.S. embassy, consulate or in the home of the American ambassador.
“The Brotherhood plays a major role in Egypt’s political landscape and cannot be ignored,” a Western diplomat said. “On the other hand, these talks have to be handled delicately so as not to anger the government.”
On April 5, the new U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer met a Brotherhood leader twice. One meeting was at Egypt’s parliament, where the Brotherhood controls about 20 percent of the 454 seats, and the other was at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone.
“It’s our diplomatic practice around the world to meet with parliamentarians, be they members of political parties or independents,” U.S. embassy spokesman John Berry said.
U.S. officials and representatives have exploited a range of opportunities to meet Brotherhood members. They cited U.S. embassy receptions for members of the Egyptian parliament as well as with the political opposition.
Islamic Brotherhood spokesman Hamdi Hassan said Hoyer met the chairman of the Brotherhood caucus in parliament, Mohammed Saad Katatni.
Hassan said that Hoyer and Katatni discussed the Brotherhood vision of Egypt and the Middle East as well as the opposition movement in the country.
“The Brotherhood not only has reservations on dialogue with the Americans, but rejects the unfair American policy in the region,” the Brotherhood’s Web site, in reporting the meetings, said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused to meet Brotherhood leaders during her visits to Egypt. However, they said Rice has allowed U.S. diplomats to do so.
David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2007