Netanyahu on Trump-Saudi Arms Deal: U.S. Committed to Maintaining Israel's Military Edge

Netanyahu says U.S. added $75m to Israel's missile defense program; Lieberman says he's 'not at peace' with U.S.-Saudi military deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks on a podium as U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a ceremony commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem May 23, 2017.
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the U.S. committed to "preserving Israel's qualitative edge in the Middle East." He made the comments a day after U.S. President Donald Trump completed a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, following a visit to Saudia Arabia where a huge arms deal was signed between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

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Speaking on Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that "three days ago, the U.S. added $75 million in aid to our missile defense program. We highly value this aid and support. Nonetheless, I want stress yet again – history has proven that Israel's security is connected to our ability and willingness to defend ourselves, with our own forces, against any threat."

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman voiced concern at the deal, saying he was worried about the "arms race" taking shape in the Middle East in his first public comment on the massive deal arms deal the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

"I'm not at peace with the arms race in the Middle East. Weapons sales in the region have reached $215 billion and this is no small sum," the minister said on Army Radio.

Israel is keeping watch on developments, Lieberman said, adding, "We have ways to deal with this too."

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The White House said Tuesday that Trump promised Netanyahu to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other militaries in the Middle Eastp on the backdrop of a huge arms deal signed between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia last week.

On Tuesday, after Trump left Israel on his way to Rome and the Vatican, the White House released a statement summarizing the meetings between Trump and Netanyahu. “President Trump underscored the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” and discussed American efforts to upgrade the military capabilities of its allies in the Middle East to face Iran, the statement said. 

“The two leaders also agreed on the need to counter Iran and its proxies, including by building strong military capabilities to protect Israel and the region from Iranian aggression,” said the White House.

The weapons deal with Saudi Arabia does not contradict the American commitment to preserve Israel’s qualitative military advantage, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One during the flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel on Monday morning. “I’m sure we can answer those questions and address the concerns they have,” he said.

On Saturday, during Trump’s visit in Saudi Arabia, the two countries signed an unprecedented arms deal worth nearly $110 billion. Alongside defensive weapons, such as the THAAD system for anti-ballistic missile defense, radar and communications systems, and transport helicopters and missile boats, which are less of a concern for Israel, the agreement also included the sale of large quantities of precision-guided munitions for the Saudi Air Force as well as over 100 advanced tanks and American cybersecurity technology.