In an effort to allay the concerns of Gulf States regarding American commitment to their security, US President Barack Obama may be preparing to sell key ally Saudi Arabia weapons that had been previously made available only to Israel, reported The Washington Times reported last week.
According to claims made by the report, the Obama administration is weighing whether to offer Riyadh GBU-28 bunker-buster bombs to mitigate concerns over the looming nuclear deal with Iran.
The White House is expected to renew its efforts to establish a region-wide defense system among the Gulf States against Iranian missiles. Accompanying the offer of assistance will likely be additional security commitments; arms sales, especially to replenish Saudi supplies following the assaults it led in Yemen and participated in against Islamic State militants in Syria; and further joint military exercises. The bunker-busters may be part of the deal.
In a 2008 congressional mandate, the US made a commitment to ensuring Israel’s regional military superiority. To provide Saudi Arabia with the bunker busters without violating that mandate, the US may offer Israel the newer and stronger GBU-57 bunker-buster bomb. However, the US has been reluctant to share that technology with anyone to date, including Israel.
“We have to make sure any transfer of weapons to anyone in the region won’t undermine Israel’s ability to defend itself,” one official said in the Washington Times report.
Other military equipment sales under consideration include Kuwait’s proposed purchase of 28 Boeing Co. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet advanced fighter jets, the outcome of which a US official said is unclear. Another official stated Washington is unlikely to offer Lockheed’s new top-flight F-35 fighter jet to the Gulf States, though it has been promised to Israel and is expected to be delivered next year.
Obama is set to host the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – at the White House and then at Camp David later this week. The US president must walk a fine line between placating his allies’ concerns over the Iranian nuclear deal solidifying in the coming weeks and being drawn into Middle East conflicts by making too many security commitments.
Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbors have expressed fears that the deal which lifts sanctions against Iran in exchange for reduced nuclear expansion will not deter the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear bomb or extending its influence in Syria, Yemen or Lebanon with its newly-released funds.
“It’s a time to see what things might be required to be formalized,” a senior US official said.
Not willing to risk increased tensions with Israel, nor to require the approval of the Republican-controlled Senate, Obama is unlikely to seek a full security treaty with the Gulf States. However, a new high-level joint working group led by the Pentagon, one high-level source suggested, may be established to help the GCC overcome internal rivalries and begin cooperating on and coordinating its missile defense.
“Missile defense is absolutely critical to the GCC right now,” said Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. “They’re not as efficient playing separately as they would be all playing as one team.”
The Gulf States want concrete offers, however, not vague promises. “This summit can’t just be a big photo opportunity to pretend everybody’s on the same page on Iran,” one Arab diplomat said.