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Britain Signs $4.3 Billion Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia

The British and Saudi Arabian governments signed a memorandum of agreement today for the sale by Britain of 132 warplanes to the Saudi kingdom valued at $4.3 billion exclusive of the cost of spare parts and support facilities.

Described by a British spokesman as “our biggest arms deal ever,” it was angrily opposed by Israel but may have had the tacit blessings of the Reagan Administration. The Saudis recently dropped plans to buy U.S. F-15 jet fighter-bombers, apparently because a long drawn-out battle seemed inevitable between the Administration and majorities in both houses of Congress which oppose U.S. arms sales to Arab states technically at war with Israel.

The sales agreement was initialed here today by the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Sultan Ibn Abdelazziz, and British Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine. The deal is for 72 of the highly rated Tornado jet fighters which are built by a British-West German-Italian consortium, 30 PC-9 defense aircraft and 30 Hawk trainers. Sources here said the Saudis originally intended to buy only 48 Tornados but increased their order after deciding not to seek the F-15s.

Israel’s Acting Foreign Minister Moshe Arens summoned the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv, William Squire, to the Foreign Ministry Monday to convey his government’s extreme displeasure over the Saudi arms deal, then pending. Arens said Israel was especially disturbed by the Tornados’ high speed, low level penetration capabilities which suits them for raids against Israel from the Saudi air base at Tabuk.

Today’s arms deal is without conditions, meaning that Britain did not stipulate that the weapons must not be used against Israel.

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