Bush seeks big boost in arms for Mideast "allies"
[This may or may not be directly relevant, but something smells fishy here. Giving lots of weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia while the Bush family doubtless rakes in millions can't be a good thing.]
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will ask Congress to expand multibillion-dollar aid and weapons sales packages to friendly nations in the Middle East, partly to counteract Iran, senior administration officials said Friday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will announce proposed extensions and enlargements of foreign aid to Israel and Egypt and a proposed arms sales package to Persian Gulf nations including Saudi Arabia before she leaves on a trip to the region on Monday, the officials said.
Details of the proposed deal come as some U.S. officials contend that the Saudi government is not helping the situation in Iraq. The proposed package of advanced weapons for Saudi Arabia has also stoked concern in Israel and among its U.S. backers because it includes satellite-guided bombs, upgrades for its fighters and new naval vessels — systems that theoretically could be used for strikes on Israeli territory.
Senior officials, including State Department and Pentagon officials who outlined the deals’ terms, told the New York Times they thought the Bush administration had resolved those concerns, partly by offering Israel more than $30 billion in military aid over the next 10 years, which would be a significant increase over recent levels.
The Israeli and Egyptian proposals would lock in U.S. commitments for the next 10 years. The total for Israel would rise from $2.4 billion to about $3 billion a year, and Egypt would continue to receive $1.3 billion a year.
Those packages, like existing 10-year packages that expire next year, represent long-standing U.S. commitments to Israel, its principal ally in the region, and Egypt as the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel and a moderate, secular ally.
Concerns over sales to Saudis
Administration officials are concerned that the package could draw opposition from Saudi critics in Congress, which is to be notified formally about the deal this autumn, the Times said.
Assurances from the Saudis about being more supportive in Iraq were not sought by the administration as part of the deal, U.S. officials told the paper.
Other salves to Israel in light of the controversial proposal would include asking the Saudis to accept restrictions on the range, size and location of the satellite-guided bombs, the Times said. The Pentagon is also asking for a commitment not to store the weapons at air bases close to Israeli territory, the Times added.
The State Department and the White House had no comment on the reported proposal, and a Pentagon spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Israeli leaders have worked to block the sale, which requires congressional approval. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently told the Israelis that moderate Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia would be able to get the weapons elsewhere, including from Russia.
The comprehensive regional aid-and-weapons package is meant to compensate Israel for the sale of U.S. weapons to countries Israel considers potential enemies. But those sales are nonetheless certain to draw opposition from pro-Israeli organizations and human rights organizations.
Iran, whose leader has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map, is viewed by Israel as its main enemy. Shiite Iran also unnerves the closest U.S. allies in the region, all of them except for Iraq led by Sunnis.
‘Positive ... message to moderates’
The Times said officials described the plan as intended to bolster Gulf countries’ militaries in a bid to contain Iran’s growing strength in the region, as well as to demonstrate Washington’s commitment to its Arab allies.
But they added that Rice and Gates still plan to use their joint visit to Saudi Arabia next week to press for help with Iraq’s government.
“The role of the Sunni Arab neighbors is to send a positive, affirmative message to moderates in Iraq in government that the neighbors are with you,” the newspaper quoted a senior State Department official as saying.
The official added that Washington wants Gulf states to stress to Sunnis that engaging in violence is “killing your future.”