Trump's $110 Billion Arms Deal With Saudis Shouldn't Worry Israel, Ex-intel Chief Says

Amos Yadlin, the former head of Military Intelligence, tells Haaretz that the weapons the Obama administration sold Saudi Arabia in 2010 were much more significant, designated to warding off an Iranian threat

Trump and King Salman at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017.
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in the recent massive arms deal does not endanger Israel and is therefore no cause for concern, according to Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies.

“It consists of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system to intercept ballistic missiles, whose chance of reaching us is very low, tanks Israel knows how to deal with and Black Hawk helicopters – these are weapons that shouldn’t raise concern,” Yadlin told Haaretz, referring to the package valued at some $110 billion.

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Some of these systems are intended as defense from missiles fired by the Iran-affiliated Houthi militia insurgents as part of the Shi’ite uprising in Yemen, said Yadlin, the IDF’s former Military Intelligence chief.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile.
Handout/REUTERS

Yadlin said the previous deal the U.S. administration signed with Saudi Arabia in 2010 was more significant. It consisted of advanced S F-15 planes, precision arming, and 132 Apachi and Black Hawk helicopters. Israel objected to the deal, but the Obama administration believed it was intended to strengthen the Saudi air force in face of any threat from the Iranian air force.

“If Israel could reach understandings with the Americans on preserving the IDF’s Qualitative Military Edge at the time, I think it will be simpler with the present deal,” he said.

A defense source said Saudi Arabia is a state that doesn’t constitute a “direct threat” to Israel, at least at this stage. Another compared it to Egypt, a state that also receives advanced Western arms in recent years, but has a peace agreement with Israel.

Perhaps Israel’s leaders are waiting for official explanations and details about the deal in general, he said. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, reported on its site yesterday that the Defense Department signed a $250 million naval training program for Saudi Arabia.

“The arms deal, like any defense issue, has numerous components, some positive and others bearing risks,” Yadlin said. "I think that we must first see the shared interests created for Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the face of the major threats in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia isn’t today an active enemy state. But on the other hand, we must remember that in states like Saudi Arabia there’s a stability problem. If there’s a regime change there – those weapons will fall into the hands of a regime that is much more hostile to Israel. The chance for that is not high.”

Yadlin said that if the regime in Saudi Arabia changes, the Americans will stop providing spare parts and training. However, he expressed concern over other weapons that Saudi Arabia is expected to receive, which haven’t been specified yet.

When the previous arms deal was signed with Saudi Arabia, the United States promised that Israel would have first priority to receive advanced weapons systems. This was the case with the F-35 with stealth capabilities, which Israel is the only Middle East state to operate, except for Turkey, which ordered more than 100 such aircraft. In fact, Israel received a certain regional exclusivity on the F-35. Despite the interest of certain Gulf states, reportedly including Saudi Arabia, they were not cleared to order the plane, he said.

In previous deals with Saudi Arabia, due to Israel’s objections and fears, other restrictions were imposed on the Saudi air force. For example, in the Saudi F-15 deal in the 80s, the Saudis undertook not to station their planes in the Saudi air base in Tabuk, the closest to the Israeli border. However, such limitations are irrelevant today due to aerial refueling and the option of additional fuel tanks to extend a plane’s airtime. The United States has also restricted the sales of these fuel tanks.