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Paul McLoughlin

Israel jittery after US-Saudi Arabia multi-billion dollar military deal

Trump visited Saudi King Salman in Riyadh for a well-publicised tour [AFP]

Date of publication: 21 May, 2017

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Saudi Arabia and the US have signed a huge military deal, but Israel has already voiced its concern saying Donald Trump must answer questions about his decision.
Israel has voiced concerns about a $110 billion arms deal signed by the US and Saudi Arabia on Saturday, saying it wants answers from President Donald Trump.

The deal will see Riyadh gain some of the world's most sophisticated military equipment, and underlines the warming in relations between Saudi Arabia and US - Israel's key backer.

Yuval Steinitz, a close aide of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said that Israel must "hear the explanations" of the deal when President Donald Trump arrives in Israel on Monday.

Arms for the region

Trump is in Saudi Arabia for his first overseas visit as president where the multi-billion dollar arms deal - which could stretch out to $380 billion over ten years - was signed. 

Secretary of State Rex Hillerson signalled that the weapons were meant to strengthen Saudi Arabia against its regional rival Iran.

Despite this - and Israel's own rivalry with Iran - Steinitz said it is imperative for Israel to have a military advantage over others in the region.

"[Saudi Arabia] is not a country that we have diplomatic relations with... it is still a hostile country and nobody knows what the future holds," Steinitz said, according to AFP.

The deal dwarfs the memorandum of understanding signed between US and Israeli officials last year, worth $38 billion over ten years. The projected one agreed between Riyadh and Washington is ten times that figure.

Israel is likely undergoing something of an existential crisis as the expansion of Riyadh's armed forces threatens its claim to being the "best military" in the region, analysts believe.

Badr al-Rashed, a Saudi correspondent for The New Arab's Arabic service, said that Israel could be concerned about being eclipsed militarily and diplomatically by Riyadh.

"I can imagine Israel doesn't want any country in the region to have more military power than it does, but that doesn't mean Israel identifies Saudi Arabia as an enemy," he said.

"But they don't know what the future holds for Saudi Arabia or who might lead it."

Despite Saudi Arabia having no diplomatic relations with Israel, there were signals that this could change if certain conditions are met.

Saudi Arabia is surrounded by enemies and needs this deal with the US. It also wants the protection of the US which comes with it.


First, Israel would need to ease its blockade of Gaza and end the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. In return Israel could be rewarded with normalised ties with Gulf states.

Yet even though Gulf states appear to be making overtures to Tel Aviv - and Saudi Arabia continues to see Iran as the chief threat in the region - Israel is still not convinced about Riyadh's intentions.

The deal is "definitely something that should trouble us", Steinitz added.

Iran threat

Saudi Arabia's expansion of its military might will give it a huge advantage over Iran in a conventional sense. Tehran has been shackled by decades of sanctions, having to rely on a homemade weaponry, improvised technology, and proxies.

A nuclear deal with Iran agreed while Barack Obama was US president eased the blockade, allowing Iran to purchase the sophisticated air defence systems from Russia.

This, along with Iran's open - and clandestine - operations in the region, has alarmed Saudi Arabia, which has seen Tehran's influence rapidly grow in the region from Beirut to Baghdad.

Iranian-organised militias have been instrumental in President Bashar al-Assad's push-back against Syrian rebels.

In Iraq, the country has been largely "militiaised" through Tehran-sponsored proxies, while in Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthi militias look nowhere near being defeated.

They were only too happy to remind Saudi Arabia of this fact by firing a missile at Riyadh hours before Trump arrived in the capital on Saturday morning.

Missiles and other military equipment purchased from the US would likely be used in Yemen, with Saudi's air war already having a devastating effect on Yemen's civilian population, while the war drags on.

Amnesty International said such arms deals with Saudi Arabia were a "brazen disregard for human rights and humanitarian law" and would embolden the Gulf state in its pursuit for 'security' which would, naturally, impact heavily on civilians.

Meanwhile, the war has tipped Yemen to the brink of humanitarian disaster with hundreds at risk of starving to death, while cholera sweeps through the country. 

Despite this, Rashed believes that Riyadh is right to feel concerned about Iran and push for an attention-grabbing military deal with Washington.

"Saudi Arabia needs this deal as it feels threatened by Iran, and its militias in Yemen and Iraq, along with the Islamic State group," he said.

"Saudi Arabia is surrounded by enemies and needs this deal with the US. It also wants the protection of the US which comes with it."

The deal itself is not quite as impressive as it seems, Rashed said, but Trump is keen to trumpet the deal to deflect attention away from his troubles at home and a promise to create jobs for voters.

Given the media coverage on the event - from what Melania wore to Trump's "war dance" - focus has been squarely focused on the Riyadh visit.

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will also be happy with the implications this could have on his Vision 2030 diversification plans, with half the military hardware in the deal due to be manufactured in Saudi Arabia. More weapons made at home means more jobs for Saudis, cynics would argue.

The announcement coincided with the formation of a Saudi state-owned weapons manufacturing company this week.

It highlights the multi-faceted elements of the arms deal - not only to counter Iran's military might but also to help build up Saudi Arabia as a regional economic power-house for the decades to come. The proof will be in whether the relationship will endure in a post-Trump America.

Israel has voiced concerns about a $110 billion arms deal signed by the US and Saudi Arabia on Saturday, saying it wants answers from President Donald Trump. 

The deal will see Riyadh gain some of the world's most sophisticated military equipment, and underlines the warming in relations between Saudi Arabia and US - Israel's key backer.

Yuval Steinitz, a close aide of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said that Israel must "hear the explanations" of the deal when President Donald Trump arrives in Israel on Monday.

Arms for the region

Trump is in Saudi Arabia for his first overseas visit as president where the multi-billion dollar arms deal - which could stretch out to $380 billion over ten years - was signed. 

Secretary of State Rex Hillerson signalled that the weapons were meant to strengthen Saudi Arabia against its regional rival Iran.

Despite this - and Israel's own rivalry with Iran - Steinitz said it is imperative for Israel to have a military advantage over others in the region.

"[Saudi Arabia] is not a country that we have diplomatic relations with... it is still a hostile country and nobody knows what the future holds," Steinitz said, according to AFP.

The deal dwarfs the memorandum of understanding signed between US and Israeli officials last year, worth $38 billion over ten years. The projected one agreed between Riyadh and Washington is ten times that figure.

Israel is likely undergoing something of an existential crisis as the expansion of Riyadh's armed forces threatens its claim to being the "best military" in the region, analysts believe.

Badr al-Rashed, a Saudi correspondent for The New Arab's Arabic service, said that Israel could be concerned about being eclisped militarily and dipomatically by Riyadh.

"I can imagine Israel doesn't want any country in the region to have more military power than it does, but that doesn't mean Israel identifies Saudi Arabia as an enemy," he said.

"But they don't know what the future holds for Saudi Arabia or who might lead it."

Despite Saudi Arabia having no diplomatic relations with Israel, there were signals that this could change if certain conditions are met.

Saudi Arabia is surrounded by enemies and needs this deal with the US. It also wants the protection of the US which comes with it.


First, Israel would need to ease its blockade of Gaza and end the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. In return Israel could be rewarded with normalised ties with Gulf states.

Yet even though Gulf states appear to be making overtures to Tel Aviv - and Saudi Arabia continues to see Iran as the chief threat in the region - Israel is still not convinced about Riyadh's intentions.

The deal is "definitely something that should trouble us", Steinitz added.

Iran threat

Saudi Arabia's expansion of its military might will give it a huge advantage over Iran in a conventional sense. Tehran has been shackled by decades of sanctions, having to rely on a homemade weaponry, improvised technology, and proxies.

A nuclear deal with Iran agreed while Barack Obama was US president eased the blockade, allowing Iran to purchase the sophisticated air defence systems from Russia.

This, along with Iran's open - and clandestine - operations in the region, has alarmed Saudi Arabia, which has seen Tehran's influence rapidly grow in the region from Beirut to Baghdad. 

Iranian-organised militias have been instrumental in President Bashar al-Assad's push-back against Syrian rebels. 

In Iraq, the country has been largely "militiaised" through Tehran-sponsored proxies, while in Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthi militias look nowhere near being defeated.

They were only too happy to remind Saudi Arabia of this fact by firing a missile at Riyadh hours before Trump arrived in the capital on Saturday morning.

Missiles and other military equipment purchased from the US would likely be used in Yemen, with Saudi's air war already having a devastating effect on Yemen's civilian population, while the war drags on.

Amnesty International said such arms deals with Saudi Arabia were a "brazen disregard for human rights and humanitarian law" and would embolden the Gulf state in its pursuit for 'security' which would, naturally, impact heavily on civilians.

Meanwhile, the war has tipped Yemen to the brink of humanitarian disaster with hundreds at risk of starving to death, while cholera sweeps through the country. 

Despite this, Rashed believes that Riyadh is right to feel concerned about Iran and push for an attention-grabbing military deal with Washington.

"Saudi Arabia needs this deal as it feels threatened by Iran, and its militias in Yemen and Iraq, along with the Islamic State group," he said. 

"Saudi Arabia is surrounded by enemies and needs this deal with the US. It also wants the protection of the US which comes with it."

The deal itself is not quite as impressive as it seems, Rashed said, but Trump is keen to trumpet the deal to deflect attention away from his troubles at home and a promise to create jobs for voters.

Given the media coverage on the event - from what Melania wore to Trump's "war dance" - focus has been squarely focused on the Riyadh visit.

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will also be happy with the implications this could have on his Vision 2030 diversification plans, with half the military hardware in the deal due to be manufactured in Saudi Arabia. More weapons made at home means more jobs for Saudis, cynics would argue.

The announcement coincided with the formation of a Saudi state-owned weapons manufacturing company this week.

It highlights the multi-faceted elements of the arms deal - not only to counter Iran's military might but also to help build up Saudi Arabia as a regional economic power-house for the decades to come. The proof will be in whether the relationship will endure in a post-Trump America.

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