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What is the significance of the recently revealed increase in U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

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The New York Times featured a front-page story July 28 headlined "U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia." The piece reported the United States plans to sell $20 billion of high-tech American military weapons to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and some of its tiny Persian Gulf neighbors.

Several print, Web and broadcast news outlets picked up the story. Very few of them, however, put the story in a meaningful context. Neither did the Times, for that matter.

"U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia" is only news in the sense that "Pizza Is Delicious, Fattening" or "Elvis Still Dead" are news.

The proposed U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia is $20 billion more of the same – a continuation of the United States' long-term policy of flooding the Middle East with weapons, then acting puzzled when wars break out, or when countries we didn't sell arms to feel threatened.

The United States has long been the world's largest arms exporter, and Saudi Arabia has long been its biggest customer. Israel gets mo' and mo' betta weapons from the United States than Saudi Arabia does, but Saudi Arabia is still the United States' biggest customer. The Saudis pay retail for their American hardware; Israel gets much of its U.S. gear at the expense of American taxpayers.

Saudi Arabia bought $40 billion in American military hardware between 1990 and 2000. Last year, Saudi Arabia and its tiny Gulf allies bought $10 billion of weapons from the United States.

The new deal would upgrade Saudi Arabia's arsenal of American-made jets and sea craft. Most significantly, according to reports, it would offer Saudi Arabia satellite-guided munitions, aka smart bombs. We've never sold them such fancy-pants gear, implied many of the stories reporting the deal.

Wrong.

In 1992, Bush the Elder and Congress approved the sale of F-15E long-range fighters/bombers to Saudi Arabia. According to a report by the Federation of American Scientists, Saudi Arabia was the first country to receive the jet from the United States. At the time, it was one of the U.S. military's most advanced strike aircraft.

A year and a half after the 1992 F-15E sale to Saudi Arabia, the United States (under Clinton, the Husband) furnished a more advanced version of the same jet to Israel. Technically speaking (which is one of my favorite ways to speak), Saudi Arabia and Israel are still at war, so Israel was keen on having a military edge.

The new deal repeats that, only without the year-and-a-half gap.

Concurrent with the news that Saudi Arabia's getting $20 billion in weapons over 10 years was an announcement that Israel would receive $30 billion, an increase of 25 percent. Details of the deal have not been revealed, but Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said publicly that whatever arms deals the United States works out in the Middle East will leave Israel with a qualitative edge in new military hardware – an edge bolstered by Israel's nuclear arsenal, which reportedly includes sea-based nukes (meaning if Israel's land-based nuclear weapons were attacked, Israel could still retaliate with nukes based in submarines).

Egypt, the United States' other big ally in the Middle East, is similarly slated to receive $13 billion in U.S. arms over the next decade. Since the Camp David Peace Accords, which made peace between Egypt and Israel, the United States has thanked Egypt with billions in military hardware. Beats the hell out of a thank-you note.

So if $20 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia is just more of the same, how is the deal significant?

Simple. Don't think about it as $20 billion to the Saudis. Think about it as $63 billion to Iran's three biggest political and military rivals in the Middle East.

The Iraq war created a power vacuum in Iraq that Iran has filled, causing Saudi's ruling caste many a sleepless night on their yachts and in their holiday palaces on Spain's Mediterranean coast. Iran and the Saudis are ethnic and religious rivals.

It's the United States' way of trying to tell Iran it will always be outgunned by the United States and its allies.

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