It hasn’t been long since Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Jack Reid of the United States Congress failed to block a major arms deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates: under the agreements, the U.S. side intends to supply the UAE with 50 F-35 fighter jets worth $10.4 billion and 18 MQ-9B Reaper drones worth $2.97 billion.
Trump approved another arms shipment to Arab countries
No earlier than January 30, it became known that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing several other major deals with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt to sell $290 million worth of precision weapons.
The editorial board of the Telegram channel “American Number” has analyzed the details of the next major defense deals between the United States and Middle Eastern countries.
Why does Saudi Arabia need smart bombs?
On December 30, 2020, the representatives of the US Department of Defense released the information according to which the US State Department approved the sale of high precision ammunition to Riyadh. According to U.S. defense officials, and an increased stockpile of long-range air-to-ground bombs will allow Saudi Arabia to more effectively counter current and future threats.
In this regard, Washington’s military and political leadership intend to send Riyadh three thousand GBU-39 (Small Diameter Bomb I, or SDB I) bombs, containers, spare parts, and all necessary support equipment in the near future. The estimated amount of the deal will be at least $290 billion, and Boeing will be the prime contractor to supply weapons to the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia is concerned about its security for a reason: first, the tenure of Donald Trump’s administration is coming to an end, and second, the anniversary of the murder of General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) special unit Al-Quds, is approaching.
In addition, the Saudi leadership is concerned about the American belief that Iran will take advantage of the domestic political turmoil in the United States to launch new attacks on Washington’s allies in the Middle East. Moreover, Joe Biden, according to his own statements, intends to stop supporting the Saudis in the armed conflict in Yemen.
In the current circumstances, Saudi Arabia will not be able to continue the Yemen campaign without U.S. assistance for long. The global drop in demand for oil due to the coronavirus has severely hit the country’s budget. In addition, because of the pandemic, the British defense company BAE Systems, which maintains Saudi bombers, has left Riyadh, leading to a significant reduction in the number of airstrikes.
A weakened position in Yemen can only mean one thing for Saudi Arabia: the Iranian-backed Hussein rebels will undertake new sabotage attacks, similar to the September 2019 strikes on Saudi oil facilities. So, while it is still possible to negotiate with the United States administration, Riyadh is trying to get itself another and perhaps the last “arms handout.
The struggle for domination of the arms market
In June 2020, General Kenneth Mackenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, stated that the United States is engaged in arms sales to Middle Eastern states in order not to cede this market to the Russian Federation and China.
The Kuwaiti leadership is actually an old and proven partner of Russia in military-technical cooperation, which is interested in major purchases of modern weapons, including S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, Su-35 fighters, helicopters, T-90MS/MSK tanks, and other equipment.
But despite its interest in acquiring weapons, the Kuwaiti government is afraid of falling under U.S. restrictive measures. The U.S. administration understands this and is pouring oil on the fire: On December 9, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clark Cooper said that countries that buy weapons systems from Russia and China risk sanctions.
Such rhetoric on the part of the United States and the turbulent situation in the Middle East are pushing Kuwait to purchase American weapons. On December 30, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of eight AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to Kuwait worth at least $4 billion. In addition, 16 AH-64 Delta models purchased in 2005 are to be upgraded to the “Model E” configuration.
“The Apaches will be equipped with upgraded AN/ASQ-170 (V) detection and targeting sights, AN/AAQ-11 night vision sensors, and the AN/APG Longbow radar fire control system. The purchase will also include new upgraded T700-GE 701D engines and AN/AAR-57 Missile Warning Systems (CMWS). Of the combat equipment, the helicopters will carry M299 AGM-114 Hellfire missile launchers, 70mm Hydra launchers, and 30mm M23El guns. Contractors will be such companies as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Electric.
Egypt is in a similar situation. The U.S. is extremely reluctant to sell its F-35 fighters to anyone except Israel and its NATO allies. At the same time, Cairo’s desire to buy the Su-35 from Moscow as a replacement for the F-35 has naturally caused a negative reaction in Washington. However, the United States understands that Egypt is a valuable ally in the Middle East and does not want to lose its influence over it. That’s why on December 30, the administration approved the sale of a $104 million missile defense system for Egyptian presidential aircraft and 20 container targeting systems for military aircraft for $65.6 million.
For Egypt, however, the deal may well be the last opportunity to take advantage of Trump’s goodwill: In his election campaign, newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden spoke out against supporting Egyptian President Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, criticizing Cairo for numerous human rights violations.
How will Israel respond?
For Israel, 2020 will be remembered as a time of reconciliation with Middle Eastern Arab states: On September 15, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed an agreement with it to normalize relations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdel Latif al-Zayani attended the ceremony at the White House in the presence of U.S. President Donald Trump.
In addition, in November 2020, Netanyahu, together with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, arrived in Saudi Arabia, where the politicians met with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. The media wrote that the two sides discussed an impending agreement to normalize relations.
Israel’s lack of criticism of U.S. international military deals is due not only to its preparations for peace agreements but also to Pompeo’s efforts, who has promised American help and assistance in improving the Jewish state’s defense capabilities. Moreover, Netanyahu most likely understands that with Joseph Biden in office, the Middle Eastern Arab states will not have to expect such military contracts.
What to expect from the U.S. Congress?
Individual U.S. congressional senators have already tried to block Trump’s international deals. High-ranking Senate Foreign Affairs Committee member Bob Menendez and Senate Armed Services Committee member Jack Reid introduced four initiatives on Nov. 18, 2020, banning the sale of F-35 fighter jets and MQ-9B UAVs to the UAE.
In their view, the deal could seriously undermine the security of both national military units deployed to the Middle East and the United States as a whole. However, after a vote in Congress on December 10, the Democrats were defeated. Unsurprisingly, the Senate is still controlled by Republicans, who rarely oppose Trump’s decisions.
The only thing left to disagree with the policy of the current U.S. leader is to stall and wait for Joe Biden to take the presidency, who can completely undo all of Trump’s international deals.