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$2.3 Billion Emergency Arms Sale to Saudis Gets Little Opposition

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Even staunchly pro-Israel members of Congress are not opposing President Bush’s decision to send Saudi Arabia a $2.3 billion emergency shipment of weaponry, including F-15 fighter planes.

The package consists of 24 F-15C and F-15D jets, 150 M-60 tanks, 200 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 1,500 rounds of depleted uranium anti-tank munitions, State Department spokes woman Margaret Tutwiler said Wednesday.

Unlike routine arms sales, which Congress may block up to 30 days after they are formally proposed, the emergency sale will go through automatically.

“The president exercised legitimate authority that’s in the law to lift congressional notification procedures,” said an aide to a pro-Israel lawmaker who often opposes arms sales to Arab countries.

“There’s not much we can do,” the aide said. “This stuff is being handed to Congress as a fait accompli.”

The United States has previously sold an estimated $50 billion in weaponry to the Saudis, with a small fraction of the sales provoking strong congressional opposition.

Tutwiler called the latest package “an initial response to Saudi needs,” with all of the weaponry provided “on an immediate basis.”

And the spokeswoman left the door open to additional sales. “Given the magnitude of the Iraqi threat, we believe that the Saudis have other critical needs. We are in the process of reviewing those needs now and will continue to consult with the Congress as we proceed,” she said.

The most noteworthy thing about the $2.3 billion package is that it does not include the more advanced E model of the F-15, which can be modified for a variety of operations, including destruction of enemy tanks on the ground.

SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL’S SECURITY

Jewish leaders who met at the Pentagon last Friday with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney were told that none of the F-15Es would be sold to the kingdom in the “short term.” Besides the F-15E, the leaders did not raise any other specific weapon that they would find objectionable.

The 24 F-15s are in addition to 12 the United States shipped to Saudi Arabia with U.S. troops earlier in the month, following Iraq’s Aug. 2 annexation of Kuwait.

If all 36 those planes are left behind, they would increase the Saudi fleet of F-15s to 98, compared to 62 before the Iraqi invasion.

Twelve additional F-15s, made by the St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas Corp., are scheduled for delivery by 1992, under a previously approved sale.

But pro-Israel circles on Capitol Hill say the current sale will not mark the end of their efforts to block future arms sales to the Saudi kingdom. “Not by a long shot,” the congressional aide vowed.

Pro-Israel lawmakers will be especially concerned about how the weapons will be positioned if and when the Gulf crisis ends.

The congressional aide said he was unaware of any “offsets” that would be offered to Israel to counter the Saudi sale.

But Tutwiler confirmed that Reginald Bartholomew, undersecretary of state for international security assistance, met recently with David Ivry, director general of Israel’s Defense Ministry, for a “preliminary” discussion, to be followed by a more formal meeting on the Joint Security Assistance Planning Group.

At the meeting, “we took the opportunity to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security and well-being, and the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Tutwiler said.

Both sides “agree on the importance of keeping the focus of the Gulf crisis on the core problem, Iraq’s illegal invasion and occupation of a neighboring Arab state,” she said.

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