By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

On September 27, 2011, the US State Department announced that Iraq has made the first payment in a deal to buy 18 F-16 warplanes worth a total of approximately $3 billion. They are a “symbol of the commitment that we’ve made to the Iraqi government to have a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said. Ali Mussawi, a media advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, confirmed the deal, without giving further details about the delivery date. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, proudly disclosed that $1.4 billion has already been transferred as a partial payment. Iraqi children are dying because of lack of adequate health facilities in the country; the country has several hundred thousand displaced people and there is no social rehabilitation plan which can effectively restore the broken structure of the society. Yet, the new government of the “liberated Iraq” has gone on a weapon-buying spree, just like the Saudis, to whom Obama administration was able to convince that they need to enter into a $60 billion defense deal, the largest U.S. arms deal ever. The Gulf Emirates are not too far behind in their extravagance on arms and pomp.

These misplaced priorities are merely the tip of the iceberg, underneath the apparent gold rush of the few “rich” Muslim countries, there is rot of unimaginable dimensions: a populace living on state handouts in a vast intellectual and spiritual wasteland, with thousands of foreign workers doing all the dirty work; these are men who are literally the slaves of those who have “hired” them for monthly wages which are equal to what they spend on their afternoon snacks. There is an underworld of essay writers for Saudis graduating from universities, most of which have been set up on the fly during the last decade. There is no planning whatsoever, because institutions for planning do not exist.

Those Muslim countries where oil money is non-existent—and majority of the 57 Muslim states fall into this category—the realities of daily life are so stark that as soon as one starts to look at them, one is left with a sense of utter doom. As if this were not enough, there is violence, corruption of un-imaginable kinds, poverty, dishonesty, insecurity and despotic rulers. All of this enmeshed with a sense of despair that erodes any hope of a turnaround.

This state has emerged rapidly on the ruins of a hope that one billion Muslims cherished during the decade of the 1970s when, following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, their self-appointed leaders met in Rabat and established the Organization of Islamic Conference. That was on September 25, 1969. The leading figures behind the emergence of this dramatic movement were either hardcore criminals who had been hand in glove with powers that be or sincere but gullible men coned into a big joke at the expense of one billion believers. OIC, as it turns out, has been the greatest scandal in the political history of the Ummah. OIC, better known as “O, I see” has made sure that the bubble of political activism, social awakening, and above all the life-energies of a whole generation of Muslims are completely defused.

This is not mere speculation. During the decade of 1990s, I had the opportunity to observe the working of OIC from close quarters and what I saw was so frightening that

a  simple and , almost all of them now According to its charter, the OIC aims to preserve Islamic social and economic values; promote solidarity amongst member states; increase cooperation in social, economic, cultural, scientific, and political areas; uphold international peace and security; and advance education, particularly in the fields of science and technology.[3]

The flag of the OIC (shown above) has an overall green background (symbolic of Islam). In the centre, there is an upward-facing red crescent enveloped in a white disc. On the disc the words "Allahu Akbar" (Arabic for "The Almighty God") are written in Arabic calligraphy.

On August 5, 1990, 45 foreign ministers of the OIC adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam to serve as a guidance for the member states in the matters of human rights in as much as they are compatible with the Sharia, or Quranic Law.[4]

On 24 February 2009, the International Zakat Organization in cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conferences announced the selection of the BMB Group to head up the management of the Global Zakat and Charity Fund, with its CEO Rayo Withanage becoming the co-chairman of the zakat fund. The fund is expected to contain 2 billion ringgits in 2010, about US$650 million.[5]

In addition to the $60 billion package of fighter jets and helicopters, U.S. officials are discussing a potential $30 billion package to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s naval forces. Talks are also underway to expand Saudi Arabia's ballistic-missile defenses. The U.S. is encouraging the Saudis to buy systems known as THAAD—Terminal High Altitude Defense—and to upgrade its Patriot missiles to reduce the threat from Iranian rockets. U.S. officials said it was unclear how much this package would be worth.

The U.S. has sought to build up missile defense across the region, and the Saudi package could be similar to one in the United Arab Emirates, officials said. THAAD is built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. supplies the system's radar. THAAD is the first system designed to defend against short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles both inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere. It complements the lower-aimed Patriot missile defense system, providing a layered defense.

Lockheed officials have stated that they see serious export potential for the system in the Middle East, where a major concern exists about Iran's ballistic missile development.

The prospect for job growth could help build support in Congress for the $60 billion package, officials said. "It's a big economic sale for the U.S. and the argument is that it is better to create jobs here than in Europe," said one person close to the talks.

Boeing Co., which makes the F-15s, the Apaches and the Little Birds, believes the Saudi package would directly or indirectly support 77,000 jobs across 44 states. It is unclear how many jobs, if any, would be supported by the Saudi purchase of Black Hawks, made by Sikorsky. Production levels are already high at Sikorsky, which is owned by United Technologies Co.

The Saudis in recent years have broadened their acquisitions to include more European- and Russian-made weaponry. That thinking was partially behind Riyadh's 2007 deal to purchase dozens of Eurofighter fighter planes from BAE Systems PLC, Saudi officials said.

Pro-Israel lawmakers have voiced concerns in the past about arms sales to Saudi Arabia that they say may undercut Israel's military edge and provide support to a government with a poor human rights record.

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U.S. officials say the Israelis are increasingly comfortable with the Saudi sale because the planes won't have certain long-range weapons systems. Also, the Israelis are in line to buy a more advanced fighter, the F-35, and should begin to receive them around the same time the Saudis are expected to start getting the F-15s. "We appreciate the administration's efforts to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge, and we expect to continue to discuss our concerns with the administration about the issues," said Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.

The senior U.S. defense official said it was unclear what pieces of equipment in the $60 billion package the Saudis may decide not to purchase, but he described the F-15s as a priority item. "It's conceivable that the Saudis could come back for the whole $60 billion," the official said, but added, "They're balancing their own defense priorities."

The $60 billion deal will be stretched out over five to 10 years, depending on production schedules, training, and infrastructure improvements, officials said.

Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the deal is so large and so complex, that changes are inevitable.

"The actual contract often is renegotiated because the Saudis are always going to push, we're always going to push, the Congress is going to push, the manufacturer is going to push. This is not the kind of negotiation where you've really agreed on the final details until you actually have put the final contract out," he said.

—Nathan Hodge contributed to this article.

It is widely believed that the massive $60 billion U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia is directed against Iran. After all, Israel did not object to the deal. As one analyst told China's Xinhua News Agency, Jerusalem, of all places, was simply adhering to the ancient principle of: "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

It is indeed possible that the deal — which includes up to 84 new F-15s, upgrading of Riyadh's current force of 70 F-15s, and up to 1,000 so-called "bunker buster" bombs — is meant to enhance the Saudi deterrent against Iran. But that presupposes that Iran will still be moving ahead with its nuclear weapons program in 2015, when the first new F-15s will be delivered to the desert kingdom, but will not yet have actually fielded the bomb. Should Iran already have acquired nuclear weapons together with viable systems for delivering them prior to that date, it is difficult to see how the Saudi purchases would effectively deter Tehran from anything other than a conventional attack on the Saudi Kingdom. On the other hand, should Iran have dropped its nuclear program — whether as a result of either international pressure or an internal upheaval — the Saudi purchase would appear to be somewhat beside the point.

A look at the remainder of the Saudi deal indicates that Riyadh has other concerns in mind. The Saudis are also acquiring 190 helicopters. These include 70 Apache Longbows, an upgraded version of the U.S. Army's highly successful attack helicopter which carries, among other weapons, a powerful 30 MM gun and anti-tank missiles. Riyadh is also purchasing 36 AH-6i "Little Bird" light helicopters, which are often used by Special Forces. Finally, the Saudis are buying 72 UH-60 Blackhawks, which are ideal for moving troops into and around combat zones.

Acquisition of these helicopters makes the most sense in the context of a need to prevent incursions from Yemen or to support the Sana'a government's operations against rebellious tribes, such as those that have been directed against the Houthis (who are Zaidis, a branch of Shiite Islam) since 2004. Indeed, so do the F-15s, and were the Houthis or other rebels to operate from underground shelters, so would the bunker busters as well. Finally the Saudi naval modernization program is as much geared to preventing piracy in the Red Sea and seaborne attacks on oil facilities in the Eastern Province as on deterring the Iranian Navy or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's naval forces.

Why would Israel not object to the Saudi purchase of attack systems that could in theory be deployed from Tabuk against the Jewish state? In part because the Israelis do not expect such an attack; in part because they will be receiving the more advanced F-35 the same year that the Saudis begin to take ownership of the F-15s; in part because the Israelis own, and are therefore familiar with, not only F-15s, but most of the systems the Saudis are purchasing. Presumably, the Israel Defense Forces have devised defenses against them, whether through electronic warfare or kinetic means. In addition, however, it is in Israel's interest that the conservative Saudi regime prevent radicals such as the Houthis — who among their other acts have terrorized Yemen's ancient Jewish community to the point that most of it has now emigrated — from ever gaining power on the Arabian Peninsula.

Moreover, even if the Israelis do not expect the F-15s to be relevant in terms of stopping the Iranian nuclear program, Israel believes that Tehran does not need five years to build the bomb — they recognize the psychological impact on the Ayatollahs of their tacit support of the Saudi purchase. The Israelis would be delighted if Tehran's paranoid leaders were to conclude from Jerusalem's passivity in the face of the Saudi deal that Israel and Riyadh are in cahoots against them and that Israel has made a secret arrangement to overfly Saudi airspace in an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

There is yet one more reason for Israeli acquiescence to the sale. For more than twenty years — since Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir quashed American Jewish opposition to the 1988 sale of F-18s to Kuwait — Israel has been relatively silent in the face of arms sales to the Gulf Arabs. At the time, Shamir concluded that the sale posed no threat to Israel, and his attaché in Washington informed a number of vocal Congressional opponents of the deal that they should reserve their vitriol for other issues. Since then, the Israeli assessment of the impact of such sales on its security has not changed, while its desire to win over the Gulf States has increased over time. Israel wants to establish decent, if not official, relations with the southern Gulf regimes not only to forge a united front against Iran, but also to encourage those states to play a more positive role in the peace process and to increase their financial support of the Palestinian Authority. While Israel has had on-and-off economic relations with several of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, Saudi Arabia has not been one of them. Riyadh is the biggest prize and the Israelis are ready to go to great lengths to win it over — and if that means silence in the face of a massive purchase of American arms, so be it.

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and other top Saudi officials Wednesday, at the start of his third trip to the tumultuous region in the past month.

“We had a very good meeting,” Gates told reporters traveling with him, after speaking with the king for 90 minutes. “It was an extremely cordial, warm meeting. I think the relationship is in a good place.”

In addition to Abdullah, Gates met with Prince Khalid bin Sultan, one of the Saudi government’s top defense officials.

Late Wednesday, he traveled to Baghdad for what is widely expected to be his final trip to Iraq as defense secretary. During his three-day trip, he is to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. troops and visit northern Iraq.

U.S. relations with the Saudis have been strained in recent months amid spreading unrest across the Arab world. Saudi officials have voiced unhappiness that the Obama administration urged the departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime ally, following a popular uprising.

And in March, the Saudis sent troops and tanks into neighboring Bahrain to help quell demonstrations at a time when U.S. officials were advocating an approach based on negotiations. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and is regarded as a strategically important bulwark against Iranian power in the region.

During Wednesday’s visit, however, U.S. defense officials minimized reports of tensions with the Saudis. Gates said he did not raise any concerns with Abdullah about the Saudi troops in Bahrain.

Gates had also planned to report to Abdullah on the progress of a $60 billion arms deal with the Saudis and to discuss plans for upgrading the nation’s missile defense system, U.S. officials said. Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of U.S. arms. Iran, which officials say is seeking to exploit the political upheaval in the Arab world, was on the agenda for discussions, as well.

At a time when U.S. officials have sharply criticized other Arab nations for their handling of pro-democracy unrest in the region, Gates planned to urge “evolutionary” reform and respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia. There have been only small protests here so far.

A senior defense official traveling with Gates said the United States needed to take a “pragmatic approach” in dealing with such a close ally.

The U.S. government is reviewing arms sales to Middle Eastern countries on a “case-by-case basis” given turmoil in the region, and has already halted some sales, a Pentagon official said on Monday.

Richard Genaille, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said that two of the biggest deals on the table have been cleared to proceed: a $29.4 billion sale of 84 Boeing Co F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and a $7 billion sale to the United Arab Emirates of an advanced missile defense system built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

A team of officials from his agency, the State Department, military commanders and the White House National Security Council were carefully reviewing planned arms sales to the region, Genaille told Reuters in an interview after a speech at the annual Navy League conference.

Unrest and violence spreading across the Middle East have sparked questions about U.S. arms sales to the region, deals that many U.S. defense companies had hoped would offset an expected decline in U.S. defense spending in coming years.

Genaille said the current reviews affected specific parts of arms sales that had already been approved by Congress and were being readied for delivery to Middle Eastern countries.

He said other big weapons deals, including a large Boeing helicopter sale to Saudi Arabia, the biggest buyer of U.S. weapons, were still working their way through the congressional notification system.

Gates had delivered a “letter of agreement” to Saudi Arabia for the Boeing F-15 sale during his visit there on April 6, but it had not yet been signed, Genaille said.

A separate deal to modernize Saudi Arabia’s eastern naval fleet could be worth more than $20 billion, depending on details still being discussed, Genaille said. That deal has not yet been notified to lawmakers.

The Navy on Friday said Saudi Arabia has asked the United States for prices for surface warships with integrated air and missile defenses, helicopters and other equipment.

Lockheed, which makes a Littoral Combat Ship for the Navy, is expected to compete for the work with Australia’s Austal and General Dynamics Corp, which are teamed up to build a separate coastal warship for the Navy.

Earlier, Genaille told the conference that he expected continued strong foreign demand for U.S. weapons, predicting that the overall level of foreign military sales could exceed the currently forecast level of $46 billion in fiscal 2011, which ends on September 30, buoyed by the Saudi arms sales.

The agency that oversees foreign arms sales reported $31.6 billion in new sales in fiscal 2010, according to its website.

The Saudi arms sales are likely to buoy sales in 2011, although the overall level will likely drop off and stabilize between $30 billion and $40 billion for several years.

In October, the Obama administration notified Congress of a proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia worth up to $60 billion over 15 to 20 years. It would be the largest arms deal on record if all purchases are made, including 84 Boeing F-15 fighter jets and upgrades to 70 more F-15s that the Saudis already have.

The proposed sale also includes three types of helicopters plus 150 Javelin anti-tank guided missiles built by Raytheon Co and Lockheed.

Genaille cited continued foreign demand for Lockheed C-130J transport planes, Boeing C-17 cargo planes, missile defense equipment, unmanned aerial systems, and intelligence and surveillance equipment.

Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps officials told executives attending the conference that they also saw strong continued demand for U.S. military and naval equipment.

Published on Friday, July 1, 2011 by Foreign Policy In Focus

Tracking the Saudi Arms Deal

by Anthony Newkirk

On May 19, President Barack Obama said that “extraordinary change” is sweeping the Middle East. But the president’s silence about signs of counter-revolution in the Middle East is deeply disturbing. This silence comes not just from the White House but also from the Republican and Democratic leaderships in Congress, and the mass media. There is a particularly deafening silence about the arms deal negotiated with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last year.

On October 20 2010, after months of talks, the Obama administration announced its intention to authorize over $60 billion in “foreign military sales” by several U.S. arms contractors to Saudi Arabia over 15 years, pending congressional approval. Besides upgrading Saudi F-15S fighters, the proposal foresees approving sales of small arms, missile launchers, and detection equipment plus 84 F-15SA aircraft, 190 military helicopters, 12,667 missiles, and 18,350 bombs. This inventory included 1,000 Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits, satellite-guided devices that turn dumb bombs into smart bombs. The possession of JDAM technology by the Saudi Royal Air Force could weaken Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the Middle East.

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Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro said that the agreement signals that the United States will help Riyadh “deter and defend against threats on its borders and to its oil infrastructure.” Without referring to the JDAM kits, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow argued that the proposed deal would not threaten Israeli military dominance. Curiously, the Israelis raised no objections. Furthermore, except for one inquiry, no resolution opposing the sale was introduced in Congress within the 30 days mandated by the 1976 Arms Control Export Act.

Where's the Money?

Getting information about the Saudi arms deal is not easy. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) that oversees “defense trade,” and the office of former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a noted congressional critic of Saudi Arabia, all declined to comment. But the Wall Street Journal reports that the "$60 billion Saudi deal for F-15 fighters has already cleared Congress but prospective sales of naval ships and missile-defense systems to Saudi Arabia and other regional partners have yet to be completed and could run into congressional hurdles."

The few references to the Saudi arms deal made by U.S. government officials in public have been ambiguous. On May 3, Andrew Shapiro admitted in a speech given to the Defense Trade Advisory Group at the State Department that policymakers must account for the changing “geopolitical landscape” in the Middle East. But he added that the administration “remain[s] committed to Gulf security, which was borne out last year when we signed the largest defense trade deal in history with Saudi Arabia.” In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 12, Principle Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said that planned transactions with Middle Eastern nations have been “put on pause, put on hold.” He offered to discuss these transactions in “closed session.”

Miller’s statement comes amid a series of mixed signals. In April, Reuters had already reported that Riyadh was asking the Navy for price quotes for warships equipped with ballistic missile defense systems — a claim the Navy neither confirmed nor denied (Shapiro also refused to comment on this in October). In fact, the same day Miller appeared on Capitol Hill, the DSCA announced a possible sale of night vision equipment for about $330 million. On June 13, the agency announced a possible sale of 14 artillery pieces, 132 armored vehicles, 404 cluster bombs, and support equipment for approximately $968 million.

A Close Relationship

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that Americans "do a lot of military business and sell a lot of weapon systems to a number of countries in the Middle East and the Gulf." Although Saudi Arabia is not the only Persian Gulf power that purchases weapons from various foreign sources, it has been a steady recipient of U.S. military aid over the past six decades. Based on Pentagon records obtained by investigative journalist Nick Turse in 2009, the Kingdom got $295 million in U.S. military aid from 1946 to 2007 and bought nearly $80 billion of military equipment and construction services from 1950 to 2006. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that Riyadh was the largest weapons importer in the region between 1990 and 2009.

Despite a near-pervasive lack of transparency, the current status of arms negotiations with the Saudis makes sense in terms of the records of security arrangements between Washington and the Gulf monarchies. The long-term goal of what the George W. Bush administration dubbed the “Gulf Security Dialogue” in 2006 is to integrate the Gulf Cooperation Council and the “GCC+3” (Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan) into a defense system aligned against Iran. Israel is also to play a role in perpetuating U.S. dominance in the Middle East. This ambition may not pan out for many reasons, not the least being the fact that Gulf rulers are torn between hostility against Iran and wanting to continue enjoying good trade relations with it, as confirmed by U.S. diplomatic cables published in the Guardian in November 2010.

In 2007, the Bush administration announced a $63 billion arms package for U.S. allies in the Middle East. Congress okayed the share for Israel and Egypt, which was $30 billion and $13 billion, respectively, over a 10-year period. However, lawmakers balked at $20 billion for the GCC because 900 JDAM kits for Saudi Arabia were tucked away in the administration’s proposal. As a compromise, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirate (UAE) were allowed to purchase “defensive weapons” for about $11.42 billion.

Leading Up to the Arab Spring

Events in the region, such as Saudi air strikes against Houthi tribal insurgents in northern Yemen in late 2009, may also have persuaded Washington to push ahead with the arms deal to Riyadh.  Claims that Washington was ignorant of the air strikes are open to question, as according to a now-disclosed cable from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh in early 2010, Saudi Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Khaled bin Sultan admitted that his country’s warplanes did indeed kill Yemeni civilians. Or more recent Saudi moves in strife-torn Bahrain near the strategic Saudi Eastern Province may have also contributed. In March, at least 1,000 Saudi troops intervened in Bahrain to help its ruler suppress domestic protests (martial law officially ended on June 1 but the Saudi military presence continues, as do human rights violations and the suppression of the political opposition). 

Washington's response to events in Bahrain has been minimal, aside from expressions of concern. Bahrain, after all, hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the naval headquarters of U.S. Central Command, and a new Marine Expeditionary Brigade headquarters for the Middle East and Africa.

U.S. citizens should demand an accounting of the “pending” Saudi arms deals from their congressional representatives. Citizen pressure can help to dispel the fog of secrecy or at least raise public awareness of the fundamentally undemocratic nature of “defense trade” and how it uses tax dollars to subsidize the dealings of weapons corporations. It could also save lives in places like Yemen and Bahrain.

© 2010 Foreign Policy In Focus