A much-touted $110-billion US-Saudi arms deal which has worried Israeli officials is not an actual binding deal, but rather a collection of letters of intent drafted by the sides, US political and defense officials told the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel.
Riedel, who characterized reports of a deal as “fake news,” said various contacts had confirmed to him that no contracts had been signed and the so-called deal was simply an assortment of proposed transactions that the Saudis and Americans may be interested in making in the future.
The only sale expected in the immediate future was a deal for $1 billion in munitions intended to resupply Riyadh’s war in Yemen.
Riedel said that none of the potential sales were new, and all had been initiated by the Obama administration.
He noted that the Saudis are unlikely to be able to afford $110 billion in purchases in the near future, due to falling oil prices and accumulated costs related to the Yemen campaign.
US administration officials had previously said the deal was the biggest single arms deal in American history.
The thrust of the deal with Riyadh, which is said to include ships, tanks and the latest anti-missile systems, aims to help the Saudi military bolster its defenses to deter rival Iran and its missile program.
The US package reportedly includes the renewed sale of precision-guided munitions that had been blocked under Obama’s administration, for fear the Saudis would use them on civilian targets in Yemen.
The agreement clears the way for the sale of Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile technologies, providing Riyadh with state-of-the-art capabilities that could thwart an Iranian rocket attack.
The $110 billion deal for Saudi purchases of US defense equipment and services came at the start of Trump’s eight-day first foreign trip last month that also took Trump to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Vatican and meetings with leaders in Europe.
Trump hailed the series of business deals he concluded in Riyadh, 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.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said after the deal was announced that he was uneasy over the agreement, which he saw as part of a “crazy” regional arms race.
Liberman said he had expressed his concerns in recent talks with US National Security Adviser HR McMaster.
“I’m not at peace with any arms race and the huge Saudi purchase for sure doesn’t add much to our peace of mind,” he said in an interview with Army Radio.
“I’m not at peace with the whole arms race in the Middle East,” he added. “It’s not just the Saudis, it’s also the Emirates, also the Qataris, also the Iranians; they are all acquiring weapons.”
Nevertheless, Liberman said, “We are following developments and are aware and have ways of dealing with this.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the US agreed to boost the defense aid it gives to Israel and would ensure that the country maintained its qualitative advantage.
The White House said that in talks with Netanyahu in Jerusalem last month, “President Trump underscored the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, including to the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
AFP and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report