Even in an era of climate change it is difficult to presume that this autumn, when the international peace conference is due, will produce a flowering of Israeli-Saudi relations. But when fantasizing about "Humus in Mecca," one mustn't criticize the major arms deal, worth $20 billion, that the United States and Saudi Arabia have reached, particularly when Israel is a main client in the deal. On the other hand, it is not gratuitous to dive into the depths of the American logic behind its Middle East policy.
The planned arms sale to Saudi Arabia would "help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained. Let us forget for the moment that Al-Qaida's underpinnings were in Saudi Arabia and that most of the September 11 terrorists held Saudi citizenship. Let us also ignore for the moment that expressions of hatred against Christians and Jews are still common in Saudi schools, and let us not mention the paradox that Saudi citizens, who will benefit from innovative American arms, have great difficulty getting into the United States, being automatically suspect. Let us close our eyes, concentrate hard, and talk only about strategy.
For example, what does a deal for sophisticated aircraft in Saudi Arabia have to do with calming the situation in Iraq? Saudi Arabia and Iraq share an 800-kilometer border, a border that is largely unsupervised and extremely porous, like the Syrian border, to the entry of terrorist elements from Saudi Arabia. It is also known that Saudi institutions bankroll Sunni political groups in Iraq, some of them terror-affiliated, and that Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it will not back the government of Nouri al-Maliki, who has Washington's support. But while Syria is hit with sanctions for similar activity, Saudi Arabia is courted as a client.
George Bush, as is well known, is an authorized exporter of democracy, but what strategic message does Bush convey to "the democracy of Iraq," or that of other countries, when he supports the "democracy" of Saudi Arabia with arms? And why is $200 million in aid to Egypt frozen because that country does not invest enough in nurturing democracy and civil rights, whereas no such demand is made of Saudi Arabia? Has the development of democracy in the Middle East ceased being a strategic goal, or are oil-rich countries exempt?
Perhaps the logic of Bush's strategy can be found in another dark corner: in that same attempt to convey a $20 billion strategic message to Iran via Saudi Arabia. But there is faulty logic here as well. Saudi Arabia has already demonstrated that it cannot pose a military challenge, neither to Saddam Hussein nor to Iran, even with the finest weapons at its disposal. What strategic balance are we talking about here? If sophisticated weapons in Saudi hands will deter Iran, then maybe the Iranian threat is not as dangerous as we thought? And when a nuclear-according-to-foreign-sources country like Israel cannot deter Iran, how will state-of-the-art fighter planes do so?
And one more tiny matter. If you have to stabilize the situation in Iran and block negative Iranian influences, and to that end must equip Saudi Arabia, what is the meaning of the joint talks between Iran and the U.S. on the Iraq question?
If it is hard to be impressed by the pure strategic logic of the Saudi arms deal, it is permissible to worry about America's strategic standing in the region - because neither Saudi nor Kuwaiti arms protect the Gulf, but rather the massive presence of the U.S. army and the understanding that it is Washington who will act against any threat to the Arab states. Israel's safety also depends on this. The U.S. failed to create a balance of terror with Saddam Hussein, as it has failed to create one with Iran. It established a terrorist state in Iraq and is incapable of stopping the export of terrorism from there to other Arab countries.
The fall festival starring Saudi Arabia will, in the best-case scenario, propel a process of some sort between Israel and the Palestinians, but will not dismantle the threatening strategic configuration in the region. That would take not fighter planes for Saudi Arabia, but rather a genuine shift in Washington.
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