lundi 30 juillet 2007

US boosts Israel's annual defense aid to $3 billion

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a new $30 billion US defense package to Israel Sunday and voiced satisfaction over Washington's plan to supply state-of-the-art weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states as a counterweight to Iranian influence. The aid boost to Israel has been widely seen as a US bid to help allay Israeli concerns over a package of arms sales, that could be worth some $20 billion over the next decade, which Washington is preparing for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

"We understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states and there is a need for a united front between the US and us regarding Iran," Olmert told a weekly Cabinet meeting. The rare agreement reflects shared US and Israeli concern with the potential threat of an Iran with nuclear weapons.

He said he and US President George W. Bush, in talks at the White House last month, agreed Israel would receive $30 billion in military aid over the next decade, averaging $3 billion a year. Current US defense aid to Israel stands at $2.4 billion a year.

"This is an increase of 25 percent for the military aid to Israel from the United States. I think this is a significant and important improvement of the defense aid to Israel," Olmert later told reporters. "Other than the increase in aid, we received an explicit and detailed commitment to guarantee Israel's qualitative advantage over other Arab states," said Olmert.

A senior Israeli government source said that under the defense package, the United States agreed to sell the Jewish state the new generation F-35 fighter jet, advanced bombs and laser-guided missiles. A senior US defense official has said Washington is readying a major arms package for Saudi Arabia and the five other Gulf state with an eye to countering the changing threat from Tehran.

The proposed arms deal to Saudi Arabia would include advanced weaponry and air systems that would greatly enhance the striking ability of Saudi warplanes. It will also include new weapons for the United Arab Emirates.

One leading Israeli hard-liner warned that Saudi Arabia, although not belligerent at present, could be taken over by extremists. The western Saudi border is just a few kilometers from southern Israel. The Haaretz daily on Sunday cited US officials saying Saudi Arabia has asked that Congress be notified in advance of the planned sale, to avoid another showdown with Israel, while the Pentagon is asking the Saudis to accept restrictions on the range, size and location of the satellite-guided bombs, including a commitment not to store the weapons at air bases located nearby Israeli territory. Israel's southern tip is about 15 kilometers from Saudi Arabia across the Gulf of Aqaba.

Meanwhile, Oman said on Sunday that Iran did not pose a threat to the Gulf region.
"We do not see that Iran poses a threat to the Gulf region," Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the Omani Foreign Minister, told reporters after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit. "Iran is a neighboring state and we have a common interest which is to maintain stability and security in the region," he said. Oman and Iran are co-guardians of the strategic Strait of Hormuz entrance to the Gulf, and the two have consistently maintained good relations.
Although the Israeli right voiced worries about the latest plan, it stopped short of outright calls to block it.

"I am very concerned." Yuval Steinitz, a key hawk on Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told The Associated Press. "I can understand the need to support moderate states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but on the other hand we have to remember that governments can be toppled, as in Iran."

Senior administration officials said Friday that Bush would seek congressional approval for additional military aid to Israel and also to Egypt, which currently gets $1.3 billion a year.

Source : The Daily Star