The Obama Administration is reportedly contemplating the sale of military aircraft worth some $60 billion to Saudi Arabia. Another deal, amounting to $30 billion and involving naval arms, is also under consideration. The goal? Containing Iran.
The deal, which would represent the largest single arms sale in American history, would allow Saudi Arabia, already the most advanced military power in the region, to acquire sophisticated American-made helicopters and fighter jets which ranges that span the Middle East. As lawmakers continue to fret about Iran’s nuclear program, those traditionally aligned with Israel’s interests are not expected to oppose the sale.
Saudi Arabia is not the only Persian Gulf state to profit from America’s willingness to share military hardware and technology. Kuwait, Oman as well as the United Arab Emirates are all either planning or expected to buy more equipment from the United States.
Beyond the sale of additional and upgrade of existing Saudi F-15s and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, both the kingdom and its neighboring Gulf states are anxious to receive American help with missile and naval defenses.
Iran’s conventional military tactics don’t appear to have changed much since the 1980s. In 1986 and 1987 Iran undertook or planned attacks on UAE and Saudi offshore oil and gas facilities, as well as Saudi coast guard facilities. In the late 1990s, Iranian gunboats periodically embarked on machine gun attacks on unmanned gas rigs within Qatar’s offshore exclusive economic zone.
In order to counter similar Iranian naval threats, the UAE are rapidly expanding their naval forces. Six Baynunah class corvettes of French making are to form the backbone of the UAE fleet which will otherwise operate 24 major amphibious assault ships and seventy new transport and attack helicopters.
Oman, too, is building a naval force while Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are working with international forces to fight piracy in the Red Sea. In the end, American support would still be necessary to completely repel an Iranian offensive but increasingly, the Gulf states are able to mount a defense of their own.
In the air, Saudi Arabia and its neighbors are also remembering lessons from the past. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were subject to air incursions and missile attacks, respectively, while in 1991 and 2003, the three northern Gulf Cooperation Council states were attacked by Iraqi cruise and ballistic missiles. Since then, Tehran has warned that it will target GCC military bases and ports in the event of an armed confrontation with the United States.
Little wonder that these countries are preparing impressive air defense systems. The UAE have bought so many as eighty F-16s; four C-17s; $3.3 billion worth of Patriot Advanced Capacity (PAC-3) surface-to-air missiles, and potentially the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The Royal Saudi Air Force has 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, while Oman has twelve new F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft.