Proposed Bill Would Require U.S. to Consult Israel Before Selling Arms in Mideast

Bi-partisan bill aims to 'ensures Israel's qualitative military edge'; it comes in wake of massive Saudi arms deal

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Saudi Arabia's King Salman waves as Donald and Melania Trump board Air Force One, May 22, 2017.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman waves as Donald and Melania Trump board Air Force One, May 22, 2017.Credit: BANDAR AL-JALOUD/AFP

WASHINGTON - In light of the massive weapons deal that was recently struck between the United States and Saudi Arabia, two members of U.S. Congress have presented a bi-partisan bill that aims to "strengthen the process that ensures Israel's qualitative military edge." While keeping Israel's military advantage over its neighbors is already an existing law in the U.S., the new bill proposes that the president "consult with appropriate officials in the government of Israel on Israel’s qualitative military edge before authorizing arms sales to countries in the Middle East."

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), one of the sponsors of the legislation, said on Friday that the new proposed bill "greatly improves our coordination by requiring consultation with the Israeli government and ensuring closer scrutiny of future regional arms sales." He added that "the qualitative military edge (QME) policy has long received robust bipartisan support, and I look forward to continuing to work together to promote a strong relationship between the United States and Israel.”

His partner in presenting the new bill, Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) said that "this bill reaffirms our commitment to Israel’s security by raising the bar for future military sales to other actors in the region. This will ensure that our strategic support of other countries does not have the inadvertent effect of degrading Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, which both Democrats and Republicans agree must be preserved.”

The new legislation also states that as part of the QME assessment process, the United States will have to consider not only the effect that certain weapons could have on Israel as long as they are in the hands of regional governments, but also what risks Israel would face if those weapons fall into the hands of non-state actors. This is a request that could complicate arms sales to countries in the region if there are any signs of internal weakness among their governments.

The Pentagon said this week that the U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale of more than $1.4 billion worth of military training and equipment for Saudi Arabia, part of a $110 billion arms deal President Donald Trump sealed with the kingdom in May. U.S. lawmakers have 30 days to block the sales, but that rarely happens.

Trump sealed the arms deals with Saudi Arabia on May 20, during a nine-day journey through the Middle East and Europe.

The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs in recent years, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars.

Washington and Riyadh are eager to improve relations strained during President Barack Obama's administration in part because of his championing of a nuclear deal with Saudi foe Iran.