Three Congress members seek to block Saudi deal


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Three congressional Democrats are seeking support for an effort to block a major U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Israel reportedly backs.

Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Chris Carney (D-Pa.) circulated a letter Sept. 15 asking fellow lawmakers to sign on to legislation that would block the $60 billion sale, which has yet to be formally announced.

"Saudi Arabia has a history of financing terrorism, is a nation that teaches hate of Christians and Jews to their schoolchildren, and offered no help to the U.S. as gas prices surged during the spike in oil prices," the letter said.

Saudi individuals — some close to the royal family — have financed terrorist groups, but the regime has not.

The letter added that "This deal would destabilize the region and undermine the security of Israel, our one true ally in the region."

Also expressing reservations was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the senior Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Congress needs to be convinced that robust safeguards are in place to ensure that this sensitive technology does not fall into the wrong hands and thereby endanger the U.S. or our ally Israel," she said in a separate statement, stopping short of joining the call to block the sale.

Israel reportedly backs the sale, the most expensive arms deal ever, to be spread out over five to 10 years.

Syndicated columnist Douglas Bloomfield reported this week that Israel has privately blessed the sale, citing U.S. congressional, Israeli and lobby sources.

The deal includes 84 new F-15 fighter planes, and nearly 200 Apache, Black Hawk and Little Bird helicopters, as well as upgrades for 70 other fighter planes.

Israeli defense firms could make tens of millions of dollars on the Saudi arms sale by manufacturing certain key components of the Saudi F-15s, Bloomfield reported.

The Obama administration also reportedly has maintained Israel’s qualitative edge in setting up the deal, he wrote.

Meanwhile, the  administration is heavily lobbying senior Congress members who have blocked for now planned defense assistance for Lebanon.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, blocked the assistance.

The Associated Press reported that the Obama administration has been assuaging Lowey and other members about the planned $100 million in defense aid since August, when a Lebanese officer opened fire and killed an Israeli officer on the Israeli side of the border. Israel returned fire and killed two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist.

The Obama administration wants to bolster the Lebanese army against Hezbollah terrorists. The lawmakers, including Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, fear that the August incident is a sign of increased Hezbollah influence on the army.

The administration is briefing the lawmakers on the findings of its queries into the incident.

Lowey "appreciates the administration’s efforts to keep apprised of findings, and the conversations will continue about the path forward," her spokesman, Matt Dennis, told the AP. "No resolution on this matter was reached. Her hold remains in place."

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