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The Arms Sale Orgy II

July 29, 2007

Although it will take more time to analyze and digest the full scope and consequences of the recently announced deals to sell arms to six Arab countries and give weapons outright to Israel and Egypt, this announcement is sufficiently disturbing to merit a good deal of attention.

The spin is interesting, the usual obscenities.

It is being packaged to the public in pieces to soften its impact with everyone told what they want to hear. The Israelis are told they will be given weapons that assure them the technological edge at the same time that the Saudis are being offered satelite-guided weapons (smart bombs) for the first time. Addressing the rather obvious concern that the US is fueling that much further, a Middle East arms race, the State Dept and Bush Administration officials brush it off as not true, and but if it is, blaming it on Iran. While claiming to go to the Middle East to pursue diplomatic peace initiatives, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are in essence nothing more than brokers for the arms industries and trying to tie down military commitments from the countries involved in exchange for a few high tech toys of death.

In the articles I have read – the NY Times (July 28) piece is typical – the deals are being crafted in the following manner: The proposed sale of weapons to Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is being announced as a `huge arms deal to Saudi Arabia’ rather than a huge arms deal to all six. News of the potential deal a few months ago suggested a $10 billion arms deal over a period of 10 years, now the figure being bantered around is $20 billion. But if a $20 billion sale of weaponry to Arab oil producing countries is `huge’, then what would be the appropriate adjective to describe the $30.4 billion promise of military aid to Israel and the $13 billion military aid package promised to Egypt?

So it is not a `hugh $20 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia’ but rather a `super-sized’ even hugher arms deal amounting to – as it has been revealed to date – to $63 billion of which US taxpayers who will shell out $43 billion to arm Israel and Egypt are actually paying more than double for the deal than the Arab oil producing countries. Combined, it is an enormous sum of money meant to keep arms manufacturers in business for the foreseeable future and to bind all of the players involved, both Israel and the Arabs, more closely to Washington politically and to its broader schemes for controlling the Middle East region, and through it the world’s energy supplies.

In some ways the deal means somewhat different things for the countries involved, all of which needs to be explored more thoroughly so what follows are essentially preliminary remarks.

For Israel, the deal essentially puts to rest any speculation that the U.S. is thinking of dropping it as a strategic partner. There have been the grumblings, weak as they might have been, that caused Abe Foxman and Alan Deshowitz to lose a few nights sleep – and then mobilize their forces that much more: the Mearsheimer Walter Report, Jimmy Carter’s book, rumors (which I admittedly could not substantiate)of a CIA report on Israel’s future circulating in the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee that suggested a bleak future long term both for Israel and for US-Israeli relations. Fear not: the main significance is to reassure Israel that its services are needed, with most of those services being of a military nature, for a very long time into the future. This should not be a surprise, a disappointment yes, but a surprise no. As far as whatever tensions exist in the relationship, the deeper meaning of the deal is that US still considers Israel is most stable strategic partner in the region `come rain or come shine’. The arms deal simply cements once again for the umpteeth time the importance of that partnership. Just think of it as a marriage not so much sealed with a kiss as with a new generation of smart bombs and the like.

The deal also bodes ill for Middle East peace making, that, long in a state of something approaching cryonic suspension. It’s simply not true that one can militarize the region – already a floating arsenal – and talk about `peace’ at the same time. To note that there is something disingenuous about such claims to the contrary should be obvious. Nor can one patiently stomach the hollow rhetoric that such sales enhance Israel’s security and should not be opposed as I suspect we’ll hear from some quarters. The arms deal is yet another indication of the Bush Administration’s support for Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, for the slicing up of the West Bank into at best bantustans and for the sanctions against Gaza which is causing the near collapse of what little remains of Palestinian civil society there. Sanctions against Gaza are based on the US sanctions against Iraq between 1991-2003 which is said to have lead to the death of more than a million Iraqi civilians. Any idea that the United States might consider pressuring Israel in to any kind of peace agreement based upon UN Resolutions 242 and 338 are essentially (from what I can tell from my vantage point here in the Rockies) dead in the water with this arms deal. Bye bye two state solution. In this arms deal Israel is basically being rewarded once again and encouraged to continue on the same path it is on. The lesson of last year’s war in Lebanon was not, that Israel should negotiate with its adversaries (which the US actually discouraged at the time) but to re-arm and go at it again.

For Saudi Arabia,… Although paying the bill for its weapons, this arms deal with the US is as important politically – indeed perhaps even more important – as militarily. As in the case of Israel, Saudi-US relations have been strained these past years. This arms deal embraced by both sides, suggests that despite 15 of 19 September 11 hijackers coming from Saudi Arabia that the Wahhabi-Saud alliance, othewise known as Saudi Arabia, has made its peace with what Khomeini used to refer to as `the great satan’. Nothing calms Saudi criticims of Western ways more effectively than the sweet gifts of satelite-based smart bombs or F-16s. It makes contacts with the unfaithful that much more bearable.

A few months before this arms deal was announced, a major scandal erupted in the British (and to a lesser degree the US) media concerning allegations that BAI – Britains largest militiary contractor – had engaged in bribing Saudi officials to buying British weaponry. The recent arms deal announcement helps put that scandal put in perspective.The FBI – yet to investigate Halliburton and Blackwater for allegations ofr corruption and outright war crimes in Iraq- leaks a high profile investigation of British military contractor’s relations with Saudi Arabia just at a time that the Bush Administration was negotiating with the Saudis over major weapons sales. The British deals with Saudi Arabia are temporarily compromised, the Saudis, who had first suggested $10 billion in arms sales from the US now double the offer, and Tony Blair, as a reward for not interferring with the US-Saudi arms deal gets the nod to become special envoy of the Quartet (US, EU, UN, Russia) to the Middle East. It had the sweet smell of an old game played by Arab oil producing countries to pit one arms industry against another to see the best deal it can come up with.

In this case, other factors were also at play. The Saudis were trying to soften the opposition to them in Congress (mostly AIPAC organized) by offering a big contract to US arms manufacturers. They’ve spent the past 60 years throwing their money around to gain political support, whether through buying Wahhabi mosques throughout the Moslem world, generously funding (and as a result in large measure also corrupting) the PLO. They tried to buy Clinton by making a major donation to the University of Arkansas for a Middle East Studies dept. etc etc.

The difference now is that the monarchy is even more frightened now than in the past. They can’t seem to stop the proliferation of little osama bin ladens from their ranks, a suggestion of a deeper malaise among the Saudi people toward the regime. The opposition was strong enough to push the monarchy to insist US military bases be moved from the kingdom to neighboring Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq. Don’t forget that in obliquely explaining the 9-11 attack – he never fully admitted doing it – Osama Bin Laden cited the presence of US military bases on Saudi soil as one of the three reasons (the other two being the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and what were then the punishing US initiated sanctions against Iraq which led to the death of upward of a million Iraqi civilians from 1991-2003)

Their credibility in the US, maintained through assiduously maintaining a low profile and doing whatever possible to keep Saudi Arabia out of the US media, has plummeted since 9-11. There have even been some discussions among the neo-cons of breaking Saudi Arabia up into 3 countries the way that it appears we are doing in Iraq. It is not about to happen but remains one of the maps in the drawer. Add to that the war in Iraq is a disaster for Saudi Arabia in a number of ways. They supported the US war, tacitly at least and some of the criticism for the failure of the occupation comes to their doorstep. As the war in Iraq deepens the danger of terrorists movements taking hold in Saudi Arabia gets more pronounced. A regime held together by an Islamic fundamentalists ideology (Wahhabism), represssion and oil profits has always been wobbly. The wobbly-ness factor appears to be growing. When in danger, the Saudis react as if the national leadership had been genetically programmed: they throw money at the problem. The fact that they are currently throwing SO MUCH money into this arms deal with the US (that they are worried might not make it through an AIPAC-dominated Congress) suggests the depth of their current anxiety.

So… We throw money and arms at Israel to reassure them. The Saudis throw money at us for arms seeking our reassurance. And Condoleezza Rice – with her phd from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of International Studies where I am currently employed – flits around the Middle East talking of peace while actually selling weapons. If they’re lucky in the countries she’s about to visit, she won’t play the piano.

Oh yes, have a nice day.

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