WASHINGTON, D.C.: Washington has announced a bumper arms deal with Saudi Arabia, heralding the package as a major boost to long-standing security ties and a way to further isolate Iran.
Administration officials claim the agreement – worth $110 billion over the next decade – is the biggest single arms deal in American history, and it will see US defense firms flow everything from ships and tanks to the latest anti-missile systems to the kingdom.
The deal also reportedly includes the renewed sale of precision-guided munitions that had been blocked under president Barack Obama’s administration, for fear the Saudis would use them on civilian targets in Yemen, where Riyadh is prosecuting a war against Iranian-backed Huthi rebels.
While not all its aspects have been made public, the thrust of the deal aims to help the Saudi military bolster its defenses to deter bitter rival Iran and its missile program.
The agreement clears the way for the sale of Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile technologies, providing Riyadh with state-of-the-art capabilities that could thwart an Iranian rocket.
“This package of defense equipment and services support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats, while also bolstering the kingdom’s ability to contribute to counterterrorism operations across the region,” said Mike Miller, State Department director of regional security and arms transfers.
In the works
While the Trump administration claimed the weapons package was the biggest ever and said it firmed up bilateral ties between the United States and the oil kingdom, many of the weapons sales had actually been in the pipeline for years.
Observers are mixed about the significance of the deal, which comes under a broader series of investments that the State Department says could tot up to $350 billion.
“Both sides have an incentive to show this as a break with the past and an opening to a new era,” said Derek Chollet, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and a senior advisor at the German Marshall Fund.
But he sees the reality as more of a natural progression from a process begun under Barack Obama, who approved more than $100 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“I ask myself if Hillary Clinton was president, what would have been different about this Saudi trip? In terms of the arms sales, maybe not a lot,” Chollet told Agence France-Presse.
Many of the sales were set in motion months or years ago, but Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner scrambled to ensure the deal was finalized ahead of the US leader’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
According to The New York Times, he even called Lockheed Martin chief Marillyn Hewson to see if she could knock down the price of the THAAD system.
Lockheed is one of the big winners from the deal, which also includes the sale of the firm’s Multi-Mission Surface Combatant Ships and associated gear, for an estimated cost of more than $11 billion.
These ships would allow Riyadh to increase patrols in the strategic Gulf and Red Sea straits in the face of Iranian threats.
The “naval modernization plan would make Saudi Arabia a much more important partner in dealing with the asymmetric threat Iran poses in the Gulf,” said Anthony Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.