No deal between Israel, Saudi yet

International Desk Published: 26 November 2020, 09:10 PM | Updated: 26 November 2020, 09:37 PM
No deal between Israel, Saudi yet

By Anna Ahronheim, The Jerusalem Post

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia's appetite for weapons has grown and with normalization with Israel no longer a pipe dream, the Sunni Kingdom will likely ask for something from Washington in return.

Earlier in the week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to the Saudi city of Neom with his military secretary Brig.-Gen. Avi Bluth and Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Wall Street Journal later reported that a senior Saudi adviser said that the three discussed normalization and Iran but that no agreements had been reached.

While no deal has yet been reached, the fact that the two leaders met face-to-face and allowed it to leak to the media indicates that normalization between the two most powerful countries in the Middle East is not too far off.

Though Washington has been selling Riyadh millions in military deals, they have been bound to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East before selling any advanced weaponry to regional states.

But this summer, following the normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the administration of US President Donald Trump announced an arms package valued at almost $23.4 billion, that includes F-35 stealth fighter jets, drones with anti-submarine warfare kits, stealthy cruise missiles, and more.

Saudi Arabia is not going to sign any normalization deal without a similar package, or one that might even top it.

A March report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that arms imports by states in the Middle East increased by 61 percent between 2015–2019 than in  2010–2014. Saudi Arabia received a total of 35 percent of all arms transfers to the region followed by Egypt (16 percent), the UAE (9.7 percent).

American arms exports to the Middle East increased by 79 percent over the last decade and between 2015-2019 accounted for 51 percent of total US arms exports.

Last year the Institute found Middle Eastern arms imports almost doubled in the past five years, with Saudi Arabia becoming the world’s largest arms importer between 2014-2018.

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia are nevertheless controversial as the Kingdom has an atrocious human rights record and is leading an alliance of Arab states (including the UAE) in a war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. That war has sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and has led to dozens of countries imposing bans on arms sales to Saudi.

But Riyadh imports most of its arms from the United States, such as fighter jets, tanks, missiles, advanced intelligence-gathering equipment, and more. And the United States has not placed any ban, yet.

Not only are Saudi’s arms purchases are taking place against its involvement in Yemen, but the increasing hostility by Iran has also led the Kingdom to procure more and more weapons.

With Israel giving Washington the green light to sell the F-35 to the UAE, Saudi Arabia will likely demand the same. In addition to advanced precision missiles, Riyadh has also expressed interest in active protection systems for its armored vehicles, missile defense batteries, electronic interference systems and advanced radar and other detection systems.

It might also want advanced armed drones like the MQ-9 Reaper drones and maritime weaponry.

Following the weapons deal signed between the UAE and the US, many have raised concerns that it would bring about a new cycle of arms proliferation in a region already awash with weapons and where major powers have no qualms about using proxy groups to fight their wars.

And with Iran viewed as a global threat by Jerusalem, Washington and Riyadh, Israel may once again green-light another large-scale arms sale to the Kingdom in order to tilt the power balance even further against Tehran.