Everyone Wins

Israel may oppose U.S. President George W. Bush's planned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but it lacks the ability to mount much effective resistance to the deal.

According to the unwritten rule in such cases, Israel must not lose the battle altogether, and it must try to reach some sort of compromise, usually in the form of compensation. However, it is even more important that Israel does not win by completely thwarting Washington's weapons deal.

This is how it has been for the past 40 years, whenever American presidents sought to bolster friendly Arab regimes in the Middle East, in order to secure them against hostile takeovers. Israel traditionally voices its objections. The Americans follow through on the deal despite this, but remember to compensate Israel for their doing so.

Except, with Bush being Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's only partner for regional peace talks, and given the effort to halt the Iranian nuclear weapons program, Israel's ability to oppose the plan is more restricted than ever.

The weapons deal enjoys some popularity in the United States. Washington suspects the Saudis are paying protection money to terror organizations such as Hamas and Al-Qaeda to keep them from striking within the kingdom, letting them focus on American and Israeli targets instead. Prominent senators are already calling for Washington to sever its funding for Riyadh, demanding the monies be replaced with sanctions.

However, the Bush administration does not regard this as pragmatic. Should Saudi Arabia leave the pro-American coalition, oil prices will skyrocket and Iran will assert full dominance over the region.

Supporting the sale is the American weapons industry, naturally. It stands to gain from a circular transaction: Saudi Arabia will pay for the advanced U.S. weapons systems with profits from oil sales to the U.S.

Israel opposes the deal because weapons sold to Arab countries that do not have peace agreements with Jerusalem may spill Israeli blood during the next military campaign. This, incidentally, applies also to Egypt, with whom Israel does have peace.

Jerusalem, therefore, is very understandably concerned with the sale of the Jdam guidance kit - which converts "dumb bombs" into accurate, all-weather "smart" munitions - to Saudi Arabia. After all, the Saudi kingdom is a stone's throw from Eilat and the sensitive facilities in the Negev Desert.

To silence the pro-Israel lobby's resistance to the deal, Bush is willing to increase military aid to Israel. This way, everybody wins: The IDF replenishes supplies and receives extra funding, and Bush is portrayed as attentive to Israel's security needs.

Referring to an arms sale to Jordan 40 years ago, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said: "We said in effect to Israel: You decide." So long, Israel has been able to avoid lost causes and decide wisely on weapons sales to its Arab neighbors.