Israel Controls US Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia
Yahoo News/Reuters
April 4, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Objections by Israel are delaying Bush administration plans for a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies aimed at deterring Iran, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Quoting unnamed senior U.S. officials, the Times said on its Web site that Israel was concerned the advanced weapons would erode its military advantage over regional rivals.

Israeli officials came to Washington in recent months to argue against parts of the planned sales, according to the newspaper.

It said Israel was particularly concerned about the possible transfer of precision-guided weapons that would improve the ability of Saudi warplanes to hit targets.

Officials were quoted as saying the United States had made few if any sales of satellite-guided weapons to Gulf countries, while Israel had received such arms since the 1990s and used then in its war with Hezbollah militants last summer.

The Times quoted a U.S. defense industry executive as saying the deal could be worth $5 billion to $10 billion if all of the weapons under discussion -- including tanks, warships and advanced air defense systems -- were sold.

Israel's complaints cast uncertainty over the Bush administration's plan to enhance the militaries of Gulf allies as a bulwark against Iran and a demonstration that Washington remained committed to Sunni Arab countries in the region regardless of what happens in Iraq, the Times said.

Several officials at the State Department and Pentagon told the paper there had been a delay until later this month in plans to notify Congress formally about the possible weapons sales.

The paper said administration officials were discussing a possible separate arms package for Israel to allay its ally's concerns.

"It's not like the Israelis are going to end up with nothing," a senior administration official was quoted as saying.

"The Israelis understand that it's in our interest and their interest" that Washington help bolster the defense systems of Sunni Arab allies, the official said.

Israel was also concerned the Bush administration's aim for a U.S.-Sunni-Israeli coalition allied against Iran might not materialize and that a revolution in Saudi Arabia would leave its mostly U.S.-made arsenal in militant Islamist hands, the paper said.

Israeli embassy spokesman David Siegel declined to comment, citing the "sensitivities of issues such as this," the Times said.

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