Report: U.S. downgrades Saudi arms deal over Israeli concerns

Wall Street Journal says U.S. to sell Saudis 84 F-15 fighter jets in $30 billion deal, but without long-range weapons systems.


By
Haaretz Service

The
Wall Street Journal said Monday that the United States had signed on to
sell dozens of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, but that details in
the final deal had been negotiated to quell Israeli concerns over the
possible exchange.

F-15 warplanes of the Saudi Air Force flying over the capital, Riyadh.

Photo by: AP

Last
month, a senior defense source told Haaretz that Israel was trying to
prevent the United States from selling new F-15 fighter jets to Saudi
Arabia in order to upgrade the 150 F-15s already in the Saudi air
force.

Defense
Minister Ehud Barak raised the deal in meetings with U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor General Jim Jones
over a month ago in Washington.

It
was also reported that Israel made its reservations clear at a meeting
in Tel Aviv between top Israeli defense officials and a delegation led
by U.S. under secretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy.

According
to the Wall Street Journal report, the Obama administration in fact
agreed to sell advanced F-15 fighter jets to the Saudis, however
excluding long-range weapons systems as well as other components in
order to quiet Israel’s concerns.

However,
despite the reported Israeli concerns over the weapons deal, U.S.
officials speaking to the Wall Street Journal made it clear that
Washington did not make changes to appease Israel.

"It’s
not that Barak swoops into town, we suddenly make a bunch of
concessions that the Israelis never knew about before, and they’re
assuaged," the official said. "There were no refinements, no changes."

The
official concluded that Israel had acquiesced to the deal not because
of changes made to it, but as a result of Israeli officials having a
better understanding "what the configuration looks like."

The
report said that the $30 billion, 10-year package came after U.S.
officials offered "clarifications" to Israel about the deal, with
officials close to the deal saying that, while Israel still had its
reservations, it was unlikely to to challenge the sale.

In
addition to the exclusion of long-range weapons, according to the Wall
Street Journal, the 84 F-15s included in the deal will have onboard
targeting systems of the kind the U.S. sells to foreign nations, yet
inferior to those in American-used F-15s.

Last
month, security sources told Haaretz that if the deal would indeed be
completed, Israel hoped Saudi Arabia will receive fewer advanced
versions of the F-15 than those possessed by Israel, which seeks to
maintain its air force’s superiority. "Today these planes are against
Iran, tomorrow they might turn against us," the source said.

Israel
and the United States held a number of meetings over the past 18 months
on maintaining Israel’s security standings in the Middle East.

The
two sides agreed that neither would surprise the other by agreeing to a
military deal with a third party. A senior source in the U.S.
administration told Haaretz the United States has promised Israel it
would have priority access to any new weapons system and, in some
cases, exclusive rights to buy new weapons systems, as opposed to Arab
states.

"The
administration is conducting open and completely transparent talks with
Israel on the matter, and we are updating Israel on any planned deal to
hear its reservations," the official said. "We believe that there are
many cases in which the Iranian threat commits us to strengthen the
ability of states in the region to defend themselves."

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