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Jewish Groups Will Not Fight $4 Billion Saudi Weapons Sale

Citing the absence of a clear direct threat to Israel, Jewish groups will not fight a $4 billion proposed U.S. weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, the largest to the kingdom since the sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes in 1981.

“There is probably not going to be a big fight over it,” said Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

He said that while the size of the sale is “mind-boggling,” it “does not contain the type of specific technology or systems that are going to prompt a major congressional effort” to block it.

Congress has until early July to vote to block the sale; otherwise it automatically becomes official.

Pro-Israel lobbyists said they are much more concerned about a possible U.S. sale to the Saudis in 1991 of F-15 fighter planes and later this year of 40 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.

The rocket systems, which “can barrage an enemy with a vast amount of explosive power,” are the only other items the administration intends to sell Saudi Arabia this year.

Both sales were listed February in the annual “Javits Report,” in which the administration provides Congress with details of any arms sales it expects to propose during the year.

Morris Amitay, treasurer of the Washington PAC, the second largest pro-Israel political action committee, said there is “no doubt” that any sale of F-15s or F-16s to Saudi Arabia “would be more of a strategic threat to Israel.”

NOT A ‘THREAT TO ISRAEL’

Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said most of the items in the current $4 billion package would be difficult for Saudi Arabia to move to its border with Jordan — its closest location to Israel — because of insufficient roads and support equipment. “Those things aren’t a threat to Israel,” he said.

Items in the sale include 2,000 TOW 11-A anti-tank missiles, 1,117 light armored vehicles, 116 TOW launchers and 27 155mm howitzers.

The aim of those sales, worth $3.4 billion, is “to modernize the Saudi Arabian national guard,” the Pentagon said Wednesday. In an apparent attempt to alleviate concerns that the equipment would be used for foreign military operations.

But Amitay said the Saudi national guard “has the same function as the other armed forces.” It is named as such “to keep factions of the royal family happy,” he said.

Among the items in the $4 billion package, pro-Israel lobbyists are focusing on the proposed $600 million in upgrades for five airborne warning and control system planes, or AWACS, sold to the kingdom in 1981, as well as for eight tanker KE-3 aircraft. The upgrades would be to their engines, protection systems and navigational gear.

The administration is also proposing to sell the Saudis 12 recovery vehicles, used to pull tanks out of ditches, which are worth $26 million.

The Pentagon said that none of the sales would affect “the basic military balance” in the Middle East. At the same time, it praised Saudi Arabia as “an important force for political stability and economic progress” in the region.

Amitay pointed out that Saudi Arabia “hasn’t been helpful in the peace process. But then again, usually their leadership doesn’t make as extreme statements as (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein and (Col. Moammar) Gadhafi,” the Libyan leader.

He noted that the United States buys more of its oil from Saudi Arabia than from any other country.

ISRAEL APPEALS DECISION ON FUNDS

Also on the arms front, Israel is appealing a U.S. decision in May barring it from spending $60 million of U.S. military aid dollar in West Germany. Israel wants to spend the money there to purchase “combat information centers” for two Dolphin-class submarines that West Germany is building for them.

Israel is the only U.S. military aid recipient allowed to spend some of the aid outside the United States. This fiscal year, the figure is $475 million out of the $1.8-billion U.S. military aid package.

But Israel must obtain permission from the United States to spend any of the $475 million for “offshore procurement,” since those funds generally must be used to buy only items not made in the United States.

The United States has allowed Israel to spend $180 million in U.S. aid on two Dolphin-class diesel submarines made in West Germany on the basis that no U.S. shipyard makes such submarines.

But U.S. defense contractors, such as the Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass., do make the information centers for construction inside the submarines.

Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Satterfield, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that the appeal is under review.

Amitay said U.S. reversal of its decision “is not that crucial for Israel” and that any U.S. reevaluation would not be made “at a very high level.”

“Funds are fungible,” he said, meaning that Israel could spend its own taxpayer money on the information centers and use U.S. military aid for something else.

Israel is spending $180 million of its own funds on the submarines as well.

Despite the possibility of a $4 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon has been “the shining light” for Israel in the Bush administration, Amitay said. “Everything is going quite well despite the political problems,” he said.

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