Gulf States on Arms Buying Binge to Counter Iran Threat

The Saudis announced a potential $20-$23 billion deal called the “Saudi Naval Expansion Program-II.”  As part of the program, Riyadh has expressed interest in buying Aegis radar equipped destroyers. Defense News noted, “Aegis BMD [Ballistic Missile Defense] would provide the Saudis with a considerable anti-missile capability, possibly in excess of any other gulf-region country, including Israel.”

Gulf states have added other capabilities to their defense structures. In May 2011, the NY Times reported that the UAE had a $529 million project to build an “800-member battalion of foreign troops.”  Emirati leaders viewed their own military as “inadequate” and hoped the “troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran.”

In Bahrain, the Sunni minority regime that hosts the U.S. naval base in the Gulf seeks to buy up-armored Humvees and TOW missile systems. The Department of Defense felt the deal would “improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

However, due to outside pressure resulting from the government’s human rights abuses against protesters, Congress has been reluctant to approve.  The Bahrainis are trying to convince them that their human rights record has improved.

In a controversial deal, the U.S. is selling Iraq $11 billion in equipment and training.  Following the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops, Iraq has big domestic political problems that include an attempt to monopolize power by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Some of the weapons sold to Baghdad are 18 F-16IQ Block-52 fighters.

While the aircraft are slightly downgraded models from the advanced F-16s the U.S. Air Force fly, Defense Industry Daily noted the sale “seems cleverly calibrated to give Iraq an air defense force that can handle aging threats from Syria or Iran relatively well, and perform strike missions within Iraq, without being a serious threat to more advanced air forces in the region,” presumably Israel.

Iran has taken notice of these massive arms deals. Aside from its nuclear weapons’ program, Iran has tested medium-range “radar-evading” missiles and is engaged in its own military build-up.  Tehran dismisses the Gulf Arab efforts as merely wasting billions of dollars.

Iran might be right in a sense, since the ability of these countries to use advanced arms against Iran is limited. They still depend on an increasingly questionable U.S. protection. Some of the money being spent is to make the Gulf Arab elites feel better. Another aspect is to tie the U.S. and European states closer to themselves.  Increasingly, one can wonder whether all of these weapons will some day be used in a new Gulf war.