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Guns Galore

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The “headline-grabber” read: “U.S. Plans New Arms Sales to Gulf Allies.” The subsequent subheading added one detail: “$20 Billion Deal Includes Weapons for Saudi Arabia.”

 Saudi Arabia 

- The country that opposed the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and whose king, in March 2007, called the invasion an “illegal occupation”? 

- The country that told the U.S. to remove its troops and find some other country for U.S. Central Command’s (USCENTCOM) forward command post?   

- The country whose border is so poorly monitored that 75 percent of all foreign fighters cross into Iraq from Saudi territory, far more than from Syria? 

- The country whose autocratic government makes little effort to prevent its youth from going to Iraq – Saudi nationals constitute an estimated 40 percent of all foreign insurgents – where they become bomb makers, snipers, suicide bombers, or otherwise fight U.S. forces?  

- The “allied” country Congress specifically excluded, in Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006, from any and all U.S. military assistance normally provided in the State Department’s Foreign Operations appropriation unless the president waived the ban by certifying that the Saudi’s were cooperating in the war on terror – which Bush did each year? 

- The country that provided financial support for the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government elected in January 2006 (support subsequently removed after the split between Hama in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank)? 

- The country that pays Palestinian families when a family member is killed by Israel military action?  

- A country that refuses to recognize Israel diplomatically?

Many in Congress vociferously objected to the presidential waivers in 2005 and 2006, a noticeable change from  the 1990s, especially in the first years after the 1991 Gulf War when the Pentagon willing sold almost anything to the Saudis – with the stipulation, demanded by Tel Aviv, that Arab countries would not get equipment that technologically equaled the equipment provided Israel. Even so, based on these orders, the U.S. actually delivered $22.9 billion in weaponry to the Saudis in the period 1997-2004.

This bit of history goes a long way to explain one puzzling aspect of the headlines announcing the sale: highlighting the $20 billion for Saudi Arabia rather than the real total which, for nine countries in the region, comes to at least $63 billion over ten years.

So how will the other $43 billion windfall for U.S. defense industry break out? Nearly half of the $63 billion – $30 billion – goes to Israel, again largely because of history.

As a “reward” for Israel and Egypt signing the 1979 peace treaty (the Camp David Accord), President Carter asked Congress for a special $4.8 billion aid package to be split between the two countries, with Israel getting $3 billion and Egypt $1.8 billion. These figures became an annual “entitlement” that lasted into the mid-1990s.

At this point, the Israelis proposed a revised agreement. Israel requested that its money, which had been a combination of economic and military aid, be converted to all military assistance. Israel offered to cap its aid at $2.4 billion annually if at least half could be spent wherever Israel chose (normally, such aid must be spent in the U.S.).

Many in Congress were not pleased with the “no strings” aspect of the Israeli proposal, but they could not resist “recouping” $600 million at a time when the Clinton administration was looking for funds to help Jordan, which signed its own peace accord with Israel in 1994. To keep the 3-to-2 informal ratio created by the 1979 Camp-David peace accord, the Israeli reduction required a $400 million reduction in Egypt’s funding. At $1 billion, the Israeli offer was even more attractive. Moreover, in 1997, Congress capped aid to the Middle East at $5.4 billion. But with the suddenly materializing billion dollars, other regional friends could be accommodated without exceeding the new cap – e.g., $85 million to the Palestinians, $193 million to Jordan, and $12.5 million to Lebanon.

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Colonel Daniel M. Smith graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1966. His initial assignment was with the 3rd Armor Division in (more...)

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