Israel Wary of U.S.-Arab Arms Deals

Washington to provide Egypt with anti-ship cruise missiles, missile boats, and antitank missiles.

The United States has recently signed major arms deals with several Arab states. Israeli officials have expressed concern at the scope and content of the agreements. Among the recipients of the advanced arms included in the agreements are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The shipments are to include anti-ship and antitank missiles as well as so-called smart and bunker-busting bombs.

In December the Pentagon notified Congress of several arms deals it wanted to carry out. The details of the deals were also posted on the Pentagon website. In its report to Congress the Department of Defense noted that none of the deals would "alter the military balance in the region."

According to the Pentagon report to Congress, no arms deal with Israel have taken place since President Barack Obama took office.

Israel's defense establishment began to be concerned by U.S. arms sales to moderate Arab states during George W. Bush's presidency. In response to criticism the U.S. has argued that providing Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries with arms is part of Washington's efforts to boost the moderate axis in the Middle East and to deter Iran.

Senior Israeli and U.S. officials have said that Israel has been informed about the arms deals.

One of the deals troubling Israel was the sale to Egypt of four batteries of Harpoon Block II anti-ship cruise missiles, in a deal worth $145 million and containing 20 missiles. The Harpoon II is an advanced, accurate missile, capable of overcoming the countermeasures and electronic warfare suites generally available for defense.

The U.S. also sold Egypt four fast missile boats in a deal worth $1.29 billion. The U.S administration said the Egyptian navy needs the boats in order to better defend access to the Suez Canal.

Another deal with Egypt, this one to bolster the country's air force, included 450 Hellfire antitank missiles. These missiles are usually launched from Apache attack helicopters. "Egypt needs these missiles in order to protect its borders," the Pentagon explained in its report to Congress. "Restrictions on the use and transfer of the missiles will be part of the deal," according to the Pentagon.

The U.S. will also sell Cairo 156 jet engines for F-16 jets, valued at $750 million, in the wake of a deal in October for the sale of 24 F-16 C/D fighter aircraft equipped with electronic warfare suites. The total value of the F-16 deal is estimated at $3 billion.

The F-16s supplied to Egypt are less advanced than the aircraft of similar type in Israel's arsenal.

A large arms deal with Saudi Arabia includes the sale of 2,742 TOW-2 antitank missiles. These are advanced missiles, which Israel also has, that are capable of penetrating the armor protection of most tanks. The total value of this deal, which is to benefit the Saudi National Guard, is estimated at $177 million.

In its report to Congress the Pentagon explained that the missiles are part of an effort to upgrade the capabilities of the Saudi National Guard, hinting that the purpose of the deal was to deter Iran and to counter Al-Qaida in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.

"The sale will improve the capabilities of Saudi Arabia to counter and defeat existing and future threats," the authors of the report wrote. "Saudi Arabia will use these capabilities to deter regional threats and strengthen security inside the country."

Jordan, too, is the beneficiary of U.S. arms sales. The U.S. will deliver to the Jordanian armed forces 1,808 Javelin antitank missiles with 162 launchers that are equipped with night vision systems. The value of the deal is $338 million.

The Javelin is an advanced missile, capable of penetrating most tanks available today. In addition, in September 2009 the U.S. signed a $220 million agreement with Jordan for the delivery of more than 80 advanced rocket launchers, of types that have been sold to Israel in the past.

The U.S. also signed a $290 million deal with the UAE for ordnance that would be carried by F-16s. These include 1,600 laser-guided "smart" bombs, 800 one-ton bombs, and 400 bunker buster bombs. Washington's desire to build up the UAE against threats from Iran was the main reason used to justify the sale.

Even though the UAE does not pose a threat on Israel and is not considered an enemy state, officials in Jerusalem are concerned about this deal as well.