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.

Haaretz Service
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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. Credit: 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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