After Saudi arms deal, ministers fret about Israel’s military edge
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After Saudi arms deal, ministers fret about Israel’s military edge

Yuval Steinitz warns Riyadh is a 'hostile country,' says Washington should have consulted with Jerusalem before inking agreement

US President Donald Trump, left, and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Two Likud ministers on Sunday voiced concern about Israel’s ability to retain its qualitative military edge in the Middle East, in the first government responses to the $110 billion arms package signed between the US and Saudi Arabia over the weekend aimed at bolstering the Sunni kingdom’s defenses against Iran.

“Saudi Arabia is a hostile country and we must ensure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is preserved,” Likud Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday, according to the Kan news broadcaster.

The energy minister indicated Washington did not consult with Israel before inking the massive arms deal.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons deals is something we should receive explanations about,” he said.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks at the "Likudiada", a gathering of Likud party members and supporters in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, on January 27, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks at the “Likudiada”, a gathering of Likud party members and supporters in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, on January 27, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Sunday similarly expressed reservations about retaining Israel’s military edge, while voicing cautious optimism Trump’s visit would strengthen regional anti-Iran alliances.

“President Trump’s visit strengthens the anti-Iranian camp in the region and presents an opportunity to advance regional security and economic cooperation as a foundation for regional peace,” Katz said in a statement.

“A regional coalition should be built under American leadership to block and push back Iran,” he said. “At the same time Israel’s qualitative military edge should be maintained.”

The $110 billion deal for Saudi purchases of US defense equipment and services came at the start of an eight-day trip that will also take Trump to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Vatican and meetings with leaders in Europe.

Trump on Saturday hailed the series of business deals, with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir saying they were worth more than $360 billion overall.

“That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States,” Trump said after talks with Saudi King Salman. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Twitter that the defense agreement was the “largest single arms deal in US history” and said other deals amounted to $250 billion in commercial investment.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the intent of the arms deal was to support Riyadh “in particular in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia’s borders.”

US President Donald Trump (R) and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)

He said the arms package “bolsters the kingdom’s ability to provide for its own security and contributing to counter-terrorism operations throughout the region.”

Earlier this month, a senior White House official told Reuters the US-Saudi Arabia arms deal would not erode Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

The State Department said the wide-ranging deal would cover five specific areas, including border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, and cybersecurity and communications upgrades.

“Included are offers of extensive training and support to strengthen our partnership and the Saudi armed forces.”

The package includes tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. On the naval side there are “Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships, helicopters, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems.”

The release said that it would also include Patriot and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD), which was recently deployed by the US in South Korea to defend against the threat of North Korean missiles.

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