When the United States sells state-of-the-art
weapons systems to Arab nations, it invariably provides even more lethal and
sophisticated arms to its steadfast ally, Israel, in order to help counter the
firepower of its neighbors.
So, when Egypt gets the M60A3 and M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, Israel gets the
TOW-2A and Hellfire antitank missiles to blow up the Egyptian vehicles
in the event of a military confrontation between the two countries currently
wedded to the 1979 Camp David peace treaty.
Likewise, when the United States grudgingly provides McDonnell Douglas F-15
fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, Israel is armed either with Sidewinder and Sparrow
air-to-air missiles or Hawk and Stinger surface-to-air missiles to bring down
the US-supplied Saudi aircraft.
Every US government has ensured that no weapons sales to Arab nations would
undermine Israel's traditional "qualitative (military) advantage"
over its perceived rivals.
Last week, the administration of President George W. Bush ran true to form
when it announced its decision to simultaneously sell arms both to Israel and
seven Arab nations: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the
United Arab Emirates.
The package, which is also expected to include one set of weapons to counter
the other, includes equipment worth some 20 billion dollars to Saudi Arabia
and five other Gulf states, plus 30 billion dollars in military assistance to
Israel, and 13 billion dollars in similar grants to Egypt, mostly for purchases
of US-made weapons systems.
The Bush administration has justified the whopping arms sales as an attempt
to militarily strengthen Israel, Egypt and the Gulf states against Iran.
But academics, peace activists and military analysts see a more sinister and
commercial reason for unrestrained arms sales to a politically volatile region.
"The only 'winners' from this deal are US weapons contractors," says
Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Center for Peace and Security
Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
"For the US defense industry, this is Christmas in July," she added,
pointing out that the Bush administration's statements that these sales will
somehow deter Iran aren't convincing.
"Past attempts to label Iran as part of the 'axis of evil' only seem to
have silenced moderate voices, and spurred the Iranian government's conventional
and potential nuclear weapons programs," Dr. Goldring told IPS.
In addition, she pointed out, the US government's record at dissuading countries
from developing nuclear weapons through military means is unblemished by success.
"Our past nonproliferation successes have been the product of political,
economic, and diplomatic approaches, not military measures," she added.
During a swing through the Middle East last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice said the proposed arms sales will also "bolster the forces of moderation
and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al-Qaeda,
Hezbollah, Syria and Iran."
Dr. Goldring said Rice fails to effectively counter the argument that these
sales are more likely to promote instability in the recipient countries because
of hostility toward the United States.
Meanwhile, several US Congressmen, including Roy Blunt, Jerrold Nadler and
Anthony Weiner, have threatened to block the sale particularly to Saudi Arabia
because the Saudis "have not been a true ally in further US interests
in the Middle East."
Whether they will have enough clout to deter the sale against the powerful
military-industrial complex is left to be seen.
Frida Berrigan, a senior program associate with the Arms and Security Project
at the New York-based New America Foundation, predicts that the proposed sale
could indeed trigger a new arms race in the region.
She said new weapon sales to Egypt and Saudi Arabia will stoke Jordan's need
for new advanced weaponry. The sultanates' appetite for new fly-boy weapons
is almost insatiable.
"This move seeks to repair the damage wrought in the region by the disastrous
war in Iraq by throwing more fuel on the fire introducing more weaponry in
a region already wracked by a civil-sectarian conflict that ripples outward
in ever widening and devastating circles," Berrigan told IPS.
She also said this sends exactly the wrong message to the Saudi government.
"Quid pro quos in weapons sales do not work witness the United States
trying to shape and influence the actions of the Indonesian military regime
through withholding spare parts of F-16s," Goldring said.
But the United States is not even putting conditions on these sales and grants
of military aid, she added.
Asked if it was prudent for the Bush administration to sell weapons to non-democratic
regimes when it is trying to spread democracy in the region, Berrigan said that
of the eight nations slated for significant increases in military aid, only
one (Israel) is a full democracy.
"The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully,"
according to the US State Department's 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights
In Egypt despite its claims of democratic elections the State Department
found "limitations on the right of citizens to change their government"
including "a state of emergency, in place almost continuously since 1967."
The rest of the countries are monarchies or sultanates where in the words
of the State Department's annual report there is "no right to peacefully
change the government."
Dr. Goldring of Georgetown University said this sale perpetuates the myth that
the US government can predict the future and say with confidence that governments
will be stable for two, three, four decades.
"Yet again, the Bush administration is failing to fully take into account
the long-term implications of its actions," she said.
In the Middle East, she said, the United States is largely engaged in an arms
race with itself. It seeks to "balance" its interests in the region
with ever-increasing levels of weaponry and military aid.
And the US government continues to argue that arms sales will stabilize the
Middle East, despite the lack of evidence to support this assertion, she added.
"The administration claims that the majority of weapons it proposes to
sell are defensive. But if they're actually defensive, why does this deal reportedly
include constraints on the weapons' range and where they can be based?"
Dr. Goldring asked.
"Adding insult to injury," she argued, "the administration is
buying off Israel by increasing its military aid to more than 30 billion dollars
over the course of the next decade."
Berrigan countered Rice's argument that billions in military assistance will
"bolster the forces of moderation" in the region.
Yet the military assistance will go to countries that brutally suppress their
Berrigan said all eight nations named for the aid package, that could top 60
billion dollars over ten years, have "serious" problems with regards
to human rights including: torture (Qatar, Egypt and Israel where reputable
human rights groups allege that security forces use torture in interrogation
of Palestinian detainees about 20 percent of the time); unlawful killings (Kuwait);
flogging and other forms of corporal punishment (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United
Arab Emirates); killings, abuse of women including female genital mutilation
(Inter Press Service)