CAIRO - Last month, Washington approved massive military-aid packages and arms
sales to its Arab allies, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and a number of smaller
Gulf States. But while U.S. officials say the deals aim to bolster the "forces
of moderation" in the region, some local commentators see the move as an
unnecessary and dangerous provocation.
"The arms deals represent a continuation of U.S. policy aimed at creating
tension and polarizing the region," Ahmed Thabet, professor of political
science at Cairo University, told IPS.
On July 28, the Bush administration announced its intention of providing Egypt
with a $13 billion military assistance package, to be paid out over the next
10 years. The deal comes within the framework of the Camp David peace accord,
to which Egypt, along with Israel, has been a signatory since 1979.
The White House also announced its willingness to sell some $20 billion worth
of advanced U.S. weapons systems to several Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia,
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Despite a degree
of domestic opposition, the sales are expected to be approved by the U.S. Congress
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted as saying that both the
aid package and weapons sales reflected Washington's commitment "to provide
for the security of our allies." She added that the deals were intended
to "counter the negative influences of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria, and
Under the terms of the arrangement, however, Arab capitals will only be eligible
to purchase defense-oriented technologies, such as anti-missile defense and
The announcements of weapons sales were followed by a high-powered tour of
the region by both Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who together
visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia. From Riyadh, Rice went on to Israel and the
West Bank, while Gates continued to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
En route to Egypt on July 31, Gates said that the unusual joint visit represented
a sign of "the importance of this region in terms of U.S. vital interests."
Aside from announcing the arms deals, Rice and Gates also sought to secure
Arab backing for U.S. policies in the Palestinian territories and Iraq. The
two officials reportedly laid the groundwork for a U.S.-sponsored Israel-Palestine
peace summit, scheduled to be held later this year, and pressed Arab governments
to open embassies in Baghdad.
According to local observers, however, the overriding objective of the visit
and of the proposed arms deals was to promote a Sunni-Arab axis against
Iran, which Rice has described as the primary "strategic challenge"
to the U.S.
"The goal of their trip was to cement an alliance of moderate Arab nations
in advance of a U.S.-led war against Iran," Ibrahim Eissa, political analyst
and editor-in-chief of independent daily al-Dustour, told IPS. "Rice
did a lot of talking about the need for a Palestinian state, but that was just
Eissa went on to warn that a U.S.-led war with the Shia Islamic republic would
be "a catastrophe" for the region. "All the American military
bases in the Arab world in Qatar, Bahrain, and other countries
could become targets of Iranian retaliation."
Essam al-Arian, a leading member of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood movement,
agreed that the visit by Rice and Gates had been less about Iraq or Palestine
and more about rallying Arab allies against Tehran.
"Despite all their talk about the peace process, little of value came
out of the visit," Arian told IPS. "The U.S. is simply preparing the
region for another war."
According to Thabet, the proposed weapons sales, geopolitics aside, will also
result in a major financial windfall for the U.S. arms industry.
"The arms deals were made to boost the American military economy, which
currently faces enormous competition from France, Russia, and China," he
said. "The U.S. is hoping to make as much money as possible from the Gulf
States, all of which are flush with record petroleum revenues."
"In the past, Washington exploited the perceived threat posed by Saddam
Hussein despite his obvious weakness to justify arms sales to the Gulf,"
Thabet said. "Now, it's playing up the Iranian menace to sell weapons."
Further vexing local observers, the White House announced earlier this month
its intention to provide Israel with $30 billion of military assistance over
the next decade, with the stated aim of offsetting the proposed arms sales to
Arab capitals. The arrangement, approved by Washington on Aug. 16, represents
a 25 percent increase from current levels of U.S. military aid to the Jewish
state, which has traditionally been the foremost beneficiary of U.S. financial
Unlike the planned arms sales to its Arab allies, U.S. military aid to Israel
will reportedly include a good deal of offensive weaponry, including high-precision
F-22 fighter jets.
At a signing ceremony in Jerusalem, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns
made no secret of Washington's policy of maintaining Israeli military supremacy
in the Middle East. Pointing to Israel's position in a "violent and unstable"
region, he said that Israel's military edge was "of interest to our country,
and we've committed to that."
According to Gamal Mazloum, retired general and specialist in geo-strategic
and defense issues, the development comes as no surprise, given Washington's
long-standing bias toward the Jewish state.
"Israel will quickly obtain the latest American weapons from the closest
U.S. or NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] arsenals," he told IPS.
"Arab countries, meanwhile, will only receive their defense systems after
four or five years."
"The U.S. is trying hard to convince its Arab allies that Iran represents
a greater danger to them than Israel. When, in fact, Israel remains the overriding
military threat to the Arab world."
Thabet, however, noted that the Arab-Israeli military equation could no longer
be seen as a zero-sum game between rivals.
"None of the Arab governments, including Damascus, are seriously contemplating
war with Israel," he said. "After all, Israel has become an ally of
the ruling Arab regimes, with both working against the interests of the wider