Alternative to the Saudi Arms Deal – wishful thinking

Dr Walid Phares

The US Government is considering a new gigantic arms sale to the Saudi Kingdom, up to 20 billion dollars’ worth of complex weaponry. The proposed package includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters, and new naval vessels, as part of a US strategy to contain the rising military expansion of Iran in the region. The titanic arms deal is a major Saudi investment to shield itself from the Khomeinist menace looming at the horizon: an Iranian nuclear bomb, future Pasdaran control in Iraq, and a Hezb’allah offensive in Lebanon.

The real Iranian threat against the Saudis materializes as follows:

    1. Were the US led coalition to leave Iraq abruptly, Iranian forces — via the help of their militias in Iraq — will be at the borders with the Kingdom. Throughout the Gulf, Iran’s Mullahs will be eyeing the Hijaz on the one hand and the oil rich provinces on the other hand.

    2. Hezb’allah threatens the Lebanese Government, which is friendly to the Saudis. Hezb’allah, already training for subversion in Iraq, will become the main trainer of Shia radicals in the Eastern province of the Kingdom.

    3. Finally Syria and Iran can send all sorts of Jihadis, including Sunnis, across Iraq’s borders, almost in a pincer movement.

In the face of such a hydra-headed advance, the Wahhabi monarchy is hurrying to arm itself with all the military technology it can get from Uncle Sam. Riyadh believes that with improved F 16s, fast boats, electronics and smarter bombs, it can withstand the forthcoming onslaught.

I believe the Saudi regime won’t. For, as the Iraq-Iran war has proved, the ideologically-rooted brutality of the Iranian regime knows no boundaries. If the US withdraws from the region without a strong pro-Western Iraq in the neighborhood, and absent of a war of ideas making progress against fundamentalism as a whole, the Saudis won’t stand a chance for survival. For the Iranians will apply their pressure directly, and will unleash more radical forces among the neo-Wahhabis against the Kingdom. The Shiite Mullahs will adroitly manipulate radical Sunnis, as they have demonstrated their ability to do in Iraq and Lebanon.

So what should the US advise the Saudis to do instead of spending hugely on arms?

First, if no serious political change is performed in Arabia, the 20 billion dollars’ worth of weapons would most likely end up in the hands of some kind of an al Qaeda, ruling over not only over Riyadh, but also Mecca and Medina. That package of wealth, religious prestige and modern arms, at this point of spasms in the region, is simply too risky strategically.

But there are better ways to spend these gigantic sums in the global confrontation with Iranian threat and in defense of stability. It needs a newer vision for the region. Here are alternative plans to use the 20 billion dollars wisely but efficiently; but let’s not count on the far reaching mainstream of Western analysis at this point:

Dedicate some significant funds to support the Iranian opposition, both inside the country and overseas. Establish powerful broadcasts in Farsi, Kurdish, Arabic, Azeri and in other ethnic languages directed at the Iranian population. That alone will open a Pandora’s box inside Iran. Realists may find it hard to believe, but supporting the Iranian opposition (which is still to be identified) will pay off much better than AWACS flying over deserts.

Slate substantial sums to be spent in southern Iraq to support the anti-Khomeinist Shiia, the real shield against the forthcoming Pasdaran offensive. Such monies distributed wisely on civil society activists and on open anti-Khomeinist groups, would build a much stronger defense against Ahmedinijad’s ambitions.

Lavish funding should be granted to the Syrian liberal opposition to pressure the Assad regime into backing off from supporting Terrorism. Without a Mukhabarat regime in Damascus, the bridge between Tehran and Hezb’allah would crumble. Hence, the Syrian opposition is much worth being backed in its own home than for Saudi Arabia to fight future networks in its own home.

Allocate ample funding to the units of the Iraqi army that show the most efficiency in cracking down on terrorists, and which prove to be lawful and loyal to a strong central Government, pledging to defend its borders, particularly with regard to Iran. That would include the moderate Sunnis in the center and the Kurdish and other minority forces in the North. A strong multi-ethnic Iraq, projecting a balance of power with Iran’s regime, is the best option for the Peninsula.

Grant abundant aid to the Lebanese Government, the Cedars Revolution NGOs and the Lebanese Army to enable them to contain Hezb’allah on Lebanese soil. Earmark some of these grants to the Shia opposition to Nasrallah inside his own areas. When Hezb’allah is isolated by Lebanon’s population, Arab moderates around the region can sleep much better at night.

Spend real money on de-radicalization programs inside the Kingdom and across the region. With dollars spent on moderate Imams and not on the radicals, Riyadh can shake off the radical Salafi clerics, and have an impact the Jihadists’ followers. By doing so, it will prevent Jihadism from becoming (as it has already) the only other option on the inside, if the Iranian axis will put pressure on the country.

Forward meaningful sums to support the current Somali Government against the Islamic Courts and help the moderates in Eritrea and Sudan. The best defense against radicalism coming from the horn of Africa is to support the moderates in East of the continent.

Invite the US military to abandon Qatar as a regional base and to relocate to the Eastern provinces of the Kingdom, with as many billions of dollars as required to help in re-installation and deployment facing Iran’s threat. A military attack by the Iranian regime on Saudi Arabia would then become a direct attack on the United States.

With the remaining billions, the Saudi Government would renew, remodel, and retrain its forces so that along with its allies, the US, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Gulf states, they would deter an Iranian regime, which will be defeated by its own people.

That of course, presumes radical reforms take place, quickly, in the Peninsula. But isn’t such a hope just a desert mirage?

Indeed, the points I suggested in this article, although logical in terms of counter-radicalism strategy, have very little chance of being adopted or even considered in Riyadh. The Kingdom, sadly, wants to confront the Islamic Republic only with classical military deterrence, not with a war of ideas. Which perhaps is why the region’s “friendly” regimes have preferred not to endorse “spreading democracy” as a mean to contain Terrorism. The reason is simple: Democratic culture will also open spaces in their own countries, a matter they haven’t accepted yet.

Dr Walid Phares is senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of War of Ideas.

August 9, 2007 | 3 Comments »

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  1. Steve Carol, in a stand alone comment, takes guidance from history in advocating against the recent initiative by G. Bush to arm the Saudis and Egyptians and promise additional military support to Israel and then asks:

    Is there no other policy the U.S. Administration can pursue other than a failed one?

    Armed with essentially the same insights, many on Israpundit have asked that very question and sought to answer it by shaping an American must do….. whatever argument.

    Phares’s article on alternative strategic American moves vis a vis the Saudis, Iran, Iraq and the Middle East calls on America to spend their billions in various ways. Phares’ suggestions are impractical for they are intricate, time consuming, not guaranteed to produce the expected result and only really suggest more rational way for America to spend money. There is far too much complexity in Phares’ proposals.

    A more simple solution would be best.

    We know that Iran is very vulnerable economically in a number of ways, not the least of which it must import refined petroleum products including fuel because if has inadequate refinery capacity.

    Instead of committing billions of dollars to arming the Saudis to protect them from Iran, America could spend just thousands of dollars on Iranian dissidents and have them blow up Iran’s few oil refineries.

    The Iranian mullocracy would be immediately put so far behind the economic 8 ball, it would have no time, energy or money to be engaged any longer in making trouble for Americans in Iraq, for supporting and financing Hamas and Hezbollah and the Saudis would have nothing to fear from the Iranians in terms of their waging war against the Saudis, not that there is any such threat of war now.

    With the Iranians completely absorbed in trying to put their economy back in some semblance of order, they would be out of the trouble making business in the Middle East.

    For once America should turn to a simple, cheap and effective solution to change the face of the Middle East by first defanging Iran. America will then have lots of time to reassess the new Middle East where no Arab/Muslim nation is thinking of attacking anyone except for Israel.



    by Dr. Steve Carol ©
    August 7, 2007

    The recent announcement of a planned U.S. $20 billion sale to Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – and the new, U.S. three-line deployment strategy, is being discussed and questioned globally.

    However, once again we are witnessing the repackaging of old wine in new bottles, except that this time the wine is vinegar. Major components of the proposed sale and strategy have been tried before by the U.S. and failed.

    In 1970, as part of the “Nixon Doctrine”, the United States introduced the concept of relying on “regional influentials” to safeguard American interests in the wide area of the Middle East. Assigned to this role was Iran, under the Shah, whose task was to protect the Persian Gulf region. Second was Israel that was to watch over the Eastern Mediterranean area and Suez Canal. The third was Ethiopia, under Emperor Haile Selassie, that was assigned the task of safeguarding the southern approaches to the Red Sea. Arms aid was given to all three nations.

    In all three cases, the policy failed. The Shah faced unrest that resulted in a revolution that toppled the pro-American Pahlavi dynasty in 1978-1979. All of the American military equipment, much of it top of the line at the time, fell into the hands of the Islamic republic. Israel suffered the shock of military setbacks and subsequent diplomatic reversals that were the immediately result of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Ethiopia faced civil war, drought and revolution that swept from power the Imperial monarchy, and replaced it with a Marxist regime, where again American aid fell into the hands of that anti-Western regime.

    The policy of relying on “regional influentials” did not work in the 1970s. It will not work now. Saudi Arabia has but one goal first and foremost, to preserve the House of Saud. It will not be a “deputy U.S. policeman” to block and, if necessary, combat Islamic Iran’s air force, any more than the misguided U.S. policy of hoping that the Palestinian Fatah organization will control militant Hamas.

    To further complicate and make matters worse, the U.S. will offer Egypt $13 billion as part of the arms package. The Egyptian armed forces, largely equipped with U.S.-made weaponry thanks to US aid totaling over $70 billion since 1979, trains for a war against the named “enemy” – Israel. According to the Congressional Research Service, Egypt purchased $6.5 billion worth of foreign weapons in the years 2001-04, more than any other state in the Middle East. In contrast, the Israeli government bought only $4.4 billion worth during that period and the Saudis $3.8 billion. If Egypt is at peace with Israel, what are all those weapons for? The answer to the question lies in Egyptian war doctrine which still views Israel as Egypt’s main, if not its only, enemy. In view of these facts, for what purpose does Egypt need an additional $13 billion to fund sophisticated top-of-the-line aircraft? Let one not forget that despite the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the Arab League’s 1948 declaration of war to liquidate the state of Israel remains in force. Egypt is a member of the Arab League and subscribes to its decisions.

    In an attempt to resuscitate the failed policy, the U.S. has added another failed strategy to the mix. As a sweetener to Israel (to swallow the bitter pill of a massive arms sale to the Arab states) and in order to get Congressional and Israeli approval to this pending deal, the U.S. administration has promised Israel an additional $30 billion in military aid over a 10 year period. While Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert was quick to praise the 25% US military aid increase as an important boost to Israel’s security, President Bush indicated that he could not guarantee this aid level beyond 2009! So much for 10 years of increased aid. Appeasement-minded Olmert added that President Bush had promised him Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region would be preserved. This may be wishful thinking on Olmert’s part, since the U.S. is now inclined to sell the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter-bomber to the Saudis, while only “considering” such a sale to Israel. In recent tests, a U.S. pilot using an F-22, engaged and defeated six F-15s in mock combat and that was repeated several times. The F-15 is the current top plane in the Israeli Air Force. Olmert, no doubt, is putting into practice Israeli President Shimon Peres’ infamously quoted statement that “It’s a great mistake to learn from history. There is nothing to learn from history.” (Maariv, May 23, 1996).

    The Israeli Prime Minister has forgotten and ignored his nation’s history. In 1970, the United States and the Soviet Union brokered and guaranteed a cease fire that ended the 1,000 day War of Attrition (1967-1970). The Soviets and the Egyptians broke the agreement on the very first night it went into effect. To pacify Israel, the U.S. gave Israel more monetary aid and additional aircraft, much as it is promising now. The U.S. move was costly to Israel. The Israeli Air force witnessed 49 of its best planes shot out of the sky in the first two days of the Yom Kippur War. The additional American funds evaporated as the staggering costs of the war, both in life and expense, dramatically escalated. So Israel has had the experience of an American “pay off” to acquiesce to an American-Arab arms deal.

    Also of importance in the pending U.S.-Saudi deal is a Saudi commitment to keep the new warplanes and missile systems away from Israel’s borders. Don’t hold your breath on that promise. A similar Saudi pledge offered in the 1990s for US F-15 warplanes was never kept despite reminders from Washington. The planes were housed at Tabuk close to the Jordanian border, Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat and its Negev bases. Ultimately, Israel informed Riyadh through Washington that Tabuk would not be immune from attack in a fresh all-out Middle East conflict. All of this does not even begin to address the question as to how good an ally Saudi Arabia is. The arms deal was promoted despite the fact that Saudi Arabia was unhelpful to the U.S. in Iraq, opposed to U.S. policy in dealing with the Palestinians, and was unable or unwilling to stop suicide bombers reaching Iraq.

    Thus the new U.S. proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia is fraught with peril. Is there no other policy the U.S. Administration can pursue other than a failed one?

    Dr. Steve Carol
    Prof. of History (retired)
    Middle East Consultant for Salem Radio Network News
    Official Historian “Middle East Radio Forum”

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