WASHINGTON (Oct. 30)
Saudi Arabia is considering asking the United States next year to sell it $5 billion to $8 billion worth of weapons, including F/A-18 fighter planes, Capitol Hill sources said Friday.
A fight with staunchly pro-Israel members of Congress would almost certainly ensue, possibly similar to the 1981 battle over the proposed sale of AWACS surveillance planes to the Saudis, which Congress ultimately approved.
Lawmakers were outraged this spring that Saudi Arabia bought Chinese CSS-2 ground-to-ground missiles capable of reaching Israel, without promptly informing the Reagan administration.
But members of Congress may be wary this time of opposing a sale. Last spring, lawmakers were stunned by news that Britain had concluded a deal with the Saudis estimated in the tens of billions of dollars.
Critics have pointed out that the potential loss of jobs and business to Americans could be enormous.
Rep. Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.), who often leads congressional fights to block Arab arms sales, said Friday he was suspicious of Saudi motives for seeking the latest batch of weapons. He noted that the United States sold the Saudis weapons on three occasions in 1987, as well as support equipment for the AWACS this year.
SAUDIS FACING NO THREAT
Speaking from Hollywood, Fla., Smith said that now that the Iran-Iraq war is over, there is no threat currently facing the Saudis.
He noted that the sale of 40 F/A-18s to Kuwait in August marked the introduction of the advanced fighter planes to the Arab world. At that time, Kuwait was concerned about protecting sea travel in the Persian Gulf, which has since quieted to a tenuous cease-fire.
The Saudis recently bought 72 British Tornado fighter planes. Smith was not sure why the Saudis would also need F/A-18s, saying that maybe since Kuwait got them, it represents the “dog-chasing-the-tail syndrome.”
Smith added that if the Saudis request the sale as a “litmus test” of U.S. commitment to Arab states, “the American people should once and for all reject this idea.”
A new Saudi request would also test campaign promises by Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and Vice President George Bush that they oppose arms sales that endanger Israel’s security.
Commenting on reports of the new arms request, Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, “We oppose the sale of arms sales to belligerents” in the Arab world. He added. “I cannot see why Saudi Arabia cannot sign a peace treaty with Israel.”
Abram said he and other American Jewish leaders met in September with the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, but declined to reveal the contents of that meeting.
The Washington Times reported Oct. 24 that the new request, to be placed by April, could also include M-1 battle tanks, M-2 and M-3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and Patriot tactical air defense missiles — all considered less threatening to Israel’s security.