For someone who insists his administration is a friend of Israel, Barack Obama sure has a funny way of showing it. Last month, in a move that raised plenty of eyebrows, the US announced that it is planning a new round of arms sales to Saudi Arabia – to the tune of $60 billion.
Under the proposed arrangement, the Saudis will be getting some of America's finest military hardware, including F-15 fighter-bombers, Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, laser-guided bombs, advanced radar systems, and Harpoon and Sidewinder missiles. That's more than enough firepower to make another round of Rambo sequels.Indeed, this is by far the largest arms deal in American history, and it will significantly improve the desert kingdom's military potential.
As Joshua Teitelbaum, principal research fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, put it: "There is no doubt that the package represents a considerable improvement in the offensive capability of the Saudi armed forces."
Just consider the following: Between 1950 and 2006, the US sold some $60 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Now, in one fell swoop, Obama plans to offer Riyadh a package equal to all those decades of military sales.
This, of course, is the same Saudi Arabia that refuses to recognize Israel, has served as a source of funding and manpower for militant Islamic fundamentalism, and ruthlessly represses any semblance of human rights for its own citizens.
But the Saudis aren't the only dubious characters to benefit from Obama's military marketing plan. In the past week, the Obama administration has notified Congress of three additional arms deals with Gulf Arab states, all of which are unfriendly toward the Jewish state. These include the sale of $5 billion worth of Apache helicopters to that bastion of freedom and democracy known as the United Arab Emirates, as well as a pact to send tactical missile systems to Bahrain.
And since the summer, Washington has also moved ahead with the proposed sale of aircraft and Patriot missiles to Kuwait, and $3.5 billion worth of F-16s to Oman.
This is all on top of the $13 billion in arms sales to Arab countries that Obama approved during his first year in office.
WHAT IS going on here? Why is Obama so busy arming Israel's enemies? The ostensible reason is growing fears about the power of Iran and the threat that it poses to the region.
America, say the pundits, is aiming to send a message to the ayatollahs that it will stand by its "allies" in the Persian Gulf to deter Iranian mischief.
But that would hardly seem to account for the breathtaking size and pace of these transactions. If anything, it appears that economics is playing a key role in Washington's calculations.
After all, what better way to inject some much-needed funds into the moribund US economy than to close a few multibillion dollar deals with the Gulf Arab states? And that is precisely what is so worrying about all this wheeling and dealing. In his rush to ring up the cash register, Obama might be overlooking the effects of these sales on the military balance in the Middle East.
Concern over this point is so great that it has led the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to circulate a joint letter among their colleagues regarding the proposed Saudi deal.
In the letter, Howard Berman, a California Democrat, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, questioned whether the administration has taken into account the sale's impact on Israel's "qualitative military edge."
They even cite a report by the Government Accountability Office which found that the Pentagon and State Department "did not consistently document how arms transfers to Gulf countries advanced US foreign policy and national security goals."
But none of that seems to bother Obama very much.
Thus far, he and his colleagues have rebuffed criticism of the deal and are pushing forward.
There is something very, very wrong about all this. As much as the US might need to start generating more jobs, selling arms to dictators just isn't the way to go.
Sure, the US has its own interests, and Obama isn't the first American president to sign on the dotted line with the likes of the Saudi regime. But this administration seems intent on taking matters to another level, moving quickly to arm some of the Middle East's most dreadful regimes with an array of dreadful weapons.
By doing so, Obama is running the risk of upsetting the military balance, tilting it in favor of the rejectionist Arab regimes and against Israel. And he is putting hitech US weapons in the hands of fair-weather friends who do not share the West's values or ideals.
That just isn't good policy. Not for America, and certainly not for Israel.