Amid American efforts to allay Sunni Arab concerns over the nuclear deal with Iran, officials are reportedly considering selling Saudi Arabia bunker buster bombs, which are currently only offered to Israel
American officials said privately this week that the Obama administration is considering selling GBU-28 bunker buster bombs to the Gulf monarchy, the Washington Times reported this week.
Talks for the sale are taking place in secret, since according to a 2008 congressional mandate, the US must ensure Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East. But the American administration is also anxious to reassure its Sunni allies in the region that it is not abandoning them.
In addition to the sale of bunker buster bombs to Saudi Arabia, the US is also considering selling F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, according to a recent report.
Analysts say the weapons sales could erode Israel’s military edge in the region.
The GBU-28, which can penetrate underground fortifications, was supplied in secret to Israel in 2009, reversing a long-standing American refusal to sell the weapons to Jerusalem.
The 5,000-pound laser-guided bombs could be used in a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, though analysts say the weapon would be too small to take out Iran’s Fordo nuclear site.
The Pentagon has been testing a 30,000 pound bunker-buster which could reportedly penetrate Fordo, but the Obama administration has refused to sell the weapon to Israel.
Gulf Arab leaders have quietly expressed dismay over an emerging nuclear pact between world powers and Iran.
The talks with Riyadh are taking place as US President Barack Obama prepares to meet Gulf leaders at Camp David next week in an effort to restore relations, which have become rocky over the approaching nuclear deal with Iran.
A New York Times report recently detailed a defense pact with the Gulf Cooperation Council that is being considered, which would commit the US to defend Arab allies from attack. The pact would also commit to joint training missions for American and Arab military forces; designating Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as “major non-NATO allies,” a step that would loosen restrictions on weapons sales and offer “a number of military advantages that are available only to NATO allies”; and approving the sale of its advanced F-35 stealth fighter to the UAE three years after it is delivered to Israel.
Countries had reportedly considered downgrading their participation at the Camp David summit, intended for foreign ministers, if the president does not come up with a satisfactory offer.
However, the Saudis will be sending their newly minted King Salman.
Officials say the visitors will seek advanced US weapons systems to help establish an Arab “qualitative military edge” as Iran grows its advanced missile capabilities.
Russia recently agreed to sell Iran the S-300 air defense missile system capable of shooting down fighters currently used by Gulf states.
Diplomats warn that with existing US military commitments to Israel, Japan, Egypt and Turkey, determining who gets what weapons and when, while maintaining a favorable military balance, will be fraught.
Experts also point out that Arab states face an asymmetric threat, and militarily would probably be better served by strengthening troop numbers and developing more mechanized units rather than gaining more high-tech weaponry which already outguns Iran.
AFP contributed to this report.