Trump Promises Netanyahu to Preserve Israel’s Military Edge, Despite Massive Saudi Arms Deal

White House says Trump and Netanyahu discussed the need to counter Iran, protect Israel and region from Iranian aggression ■ Contrary to previous administrations, Trump didn't consult with Israel before signing deal with Saudis

U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

The United States will act to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other militaries in the Middle East, U.S. President Donald Trump promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their meeting in Jerusalem on Monday, against 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.

As opposed to previous U.S. administrations, the Trump administration held almost no consultations with Israel over the weapons deal with the Saudis before it was signed.

In recent years, during both the George W. Bush administration and the early years of Barack Obama’s administration, such weapons sales to Saudi Arabia were the focus of security talks between Israel and the United States concerning the preservation of Israel’s qualitative military edge. As a result of those talks, the Americans avoided selling certain weapons systems to the Saudis or placed limits on how they could be used in order to make it more difficult to use them against Israel.