US arms deal may lead to arms race, say pundits

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read

CAIRO: The recently announced US initiative to arm its friends in the Middle East to limit Iranian influence may plunge the region into an intense arms race, political pundits told Daily News Egypt

Although Syria was mentioned as one of the US’s concerns in the region, the military buttressing of its allies was portrayed primarily as a reaction to Iran’s growing role in the region, more explicitly in its support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice labeled Iran the “biggest threat to the Middle East, even before the start of her current Middle East tour with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank.

Pending congressional approval, the largest beneficiaries of the US policy will be Egypt and Israel, who will be supported through military aid packages worth $30 billion for Israel and $13 billion for Egypt respectively over the next ten years.

An additional $20 billion arms deal will be signed with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the UAE.

But some analysts have downplayed the significance of the new Egyptian military aid package as the country already receives $1.3 billion annually in military assistance. However, while Egypt’s share will not increase with the new initiative, Israel’s will rise by 25 percent from its current annual sum of $2.4 billion.

“An arms deal particularly in the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia is certainly in the interest of the US in terms of checking Iranian influence, American political analyst David Dumkey, who has extensive experience on Capitol Hill, told Daily News Egypt.

The US s lobbying effort is designed to unite its regional allies against Iran and its much-feared nuclear ambitions.

According to Dumkey, US military deals in the region are nothing new, but the fact that this latest deal is set apart as a single package does send a political message.

“It is a political signal that is much more realistic, departing from the neo-cons’ idealistic approach and sounding more like Robert Gates, Dumkey said.

The deal is reported to include the sale of satellite-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, making the Kingdom the first Arab nation to acquire this kind of weaponry. All the more surprising is that Israel has no reservations about the arms deals, due to its comprehension of the Iranian threat.

Although the US administration hopes it can attain congressional approval by the fall, Dumkey believes the deal may face some opposition in Congress.

Two Democratic Congressmen, Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler of New York have already announced their opposition to any arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

“The arms deals require congressional approval in either the House or Senate and in the past, huge packages to Saudi Arabia have been fiercely contested on the floor of both Houses, and, in some cases, rejected, Dumkey said.

He added that the Kingdom’s military deals tend to be a tougher sell in congress due to the country s lack of support for the Iraqi government and the movement of insurgents crossing its border with Iraq.

“The problems between the US and Iran will most likely not be solved with arms. In domestic US politics you will get the question, is it in the US’s best interest to have an arms race in the region? Can these weapons fall into the wrong hands?

Egyptian military strategist Adel Suleiman believes the US move is designed to safeguard Israeli military superiority, while also creating a strategic balance in the Gulf. “Although Iran has expressed its rejection of this US deal, it has only two alternatives, either to enter an arms race or to try to build bridges with Gulf nations, Suleiman told Daily News Egypt.

Suleiman thinks the notion of a full-fledged US military attack on Iran is increasingly minimal.

“Especially because Hezbollah is preoccupied with domestic Lebanese politics and Hamas is surrounded in Gaza, he said.

Other political pundits are more pessimistic about the possibilities of war.

“The Iranian regime looks at the world in terms of religions and sects. They see that the Christians have nuclear weapons, in Europe and the US, the Jews in Israel, so do the Sunni Muslims in Pakistan. It is a matter of life and death for the Shia nation to acquire nuclear weapons, Abdel Rehim Ali, manager of the Arab Center for the Study of Islamist Movements told Daily News Egypt.

At this point in the political game Ali believes a military confrontation between the US and Iran is imminent.

“If the US targets Iranian nuclear sites, Iran may retaliate by attacking its bases in the region which are on Arab soil. This will indirectly lead to war between some Arab nations and Iran, Ali said.

For this reason, Ali believes this military support is a necessary first step, giving US allies protection against the likely knock-on effects of a possible US strike on Iranian nuclear sites.

“Iran is bargaining with stability in Iraq on the one hand and its nuclear ambitions on the other. And part of the equation is that Iran wants a more dominant leading role in the region, it wants more of a say in everything that happens, Ali said.

Egypt’s support of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have, according to Ali, placed Egypt in opposition to both Iran and Syria, who support and control both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

The US administration’s tour over the next two days is expected to bolster regional support for a Middle East peace conference, to be held by the end of the year in Sharm El-Sheikh.

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