22 April 2015
US sale of arms to Arab states increases
The sale of American military hardware is on the rise in the Middle East, reports the New York Times. Defense industry officials notified Congress that Arab allies fighting the Islamic State – Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt – are set to purchase thousands of American-made missiles and other weapons. Until recently Gulf Nations militaries have been “a combination of something between symbols of deterrence and national flying clubs. Now they’re suddenly being used”, said Richard L. Aboulafia, a defense analyst at the Teal Group. Saudi Arabia has become the world’s fourth largest defense market, spending more than USD 80 billion on weaponry last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute tracking global military spending. The Emirates and Qatar have followed suit, the Emirates spending nearly USD 23 billion last year and Qatar signing an USD 11 billion agreement for the purchase of Apache attack helicopters and an air defense system.
The conflicts driving the purchases are of an “unquestionably sectarian character”. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen. The campaign sees a coalition of Sunni states backed by America, attacking Houthi militia fighters who have recently taken over Yemen’s capital, Sana, allegedly backed by Iran. But the growth in spending has also raised concerns of a “dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn”. The recent de facto alliance between Israel and the Arab states highlights the changing balance of power in the Middle East and has seen a greater willingness from the Obama administration to sell advanced weapons in the Persian Gulf, with little public objection from Israel. For example, the new alliance, “the emerging Sunni-Shia civil war coupled with the sale of advanced Russian air defense systems to Iran … [could] result in F-35 clearance to the gulf states” said Mr. Aboulafia – a jet thus far reserved for European and Asian allies.
However, the proliferation of arms to the region has been met with questions about how judicious Washington’s allies are in using US weaponry. The increase should be viewed “with a great deal of trepidation, as it is leading to an escalation in the type and number and sophistication in the weaponry in these countries”, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “A good number of the American arms that have been used in Yemen by the Saudis have been used against civilian populations,” an assertion that Saudi Arabia denies.
But Andrew J. Shapiro, former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs stated that “our close relationships with countries in the region are critical to regional stability and Israel’s security. Our relationships with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and many Gulf countries allow the United States to strongly advocate for peace and stability in the region”. The use of weapons have not been confined to the Saudi coalition in Yemen. Sunni states have also “shown a new determination to use military force against radical Sunni groups like the Islamic State” with numerous Arab countries launching attacks against ISIS from air bases in Jordan. Morocco’s deputy foreign minister confirmed – “it’s a question of protecting the Sunnis”.
In the meantime, the Emirates is nearing the completion of a deal for the purchase of Predator drones. Although unarmed, the drones will be equipped with lasers, allowing for better identification of ground targets. If the sale is successful, it will be the first occasion that the drones are sold to an American ally outside of NATO.