Britain Announces $34 Billion Sale of Advanced Weapons to Saudi Arabia

Officials who have deplored the idea of a Middle East arms race are trying to justify Britain’s massive weapons-for-oil deal with Saudi Arabia, announced on the eve of Thursday’s parliamentary elections here.

Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and his Labor Party opposite number, Gerald Kaufman, have both expressed concern over the arms build-up in the region in interviews with the Jewish Chronicle. So have other senior officials.

Now they will have to explain how that concern squares with the sale of $34 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry to the Saudis, including 48 Tornado strike aircraft, six minesweepers and 90 helicopter gunships.

Saudi Arabia has made a $2.6 billion down payment for the arms and has agreed to supply Britain with 500,000 barrels of oil a day.

The Foreign Office denied the agreement was “incompatible” with Britain’s support of arms control. “A country has a right to its own self-defense,” a spokesperson said.

Hurd told the Chronicle that Britain, which maintains an arms embargo against Israel, would continue to supply weapons to its traditional allies in the Persian Gulf.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy here said Israel “regrets the ongoing arms race” in the Middle East, which is already “flooded with weapons.”

“We thought that the European Community, including Britain, intended to restrict the arms race. But now we hear about this new deal,” the Israelis said.

They are particularly concerned that some of the arms could be passed on to radical Arab states or that the pro-Western Saudi regime could be toppled by Islamic fundamentalists.

Military analysts told the Chronicle that the Saudis do not have sufficient manpower to operate the huge amounts of military hardware they have accumulated.

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