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Arms Supplies to the Middle East

September 19, 1980
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Britain, France and the U.S. are stepping up their arms supplies to the Middle East and, in the past 12 months, secured at least 34 major arms contracts compared with only four by the Soviet Union. This is revealed by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in its annual “Military Balance” published today.

Although the number of deals do not necessarily reflect the quantities of weapons delivered, they underline the continued demand of Middle East states, especially the oil-producing countries, for sophisticated Western weaponry and the readiness of Western states to supply them in growing quantities.

The two superpowers are still supplying their principal clients. Thus the U.S. signed major deals with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, and the Soviet Union pledged new supplies to Algeria, Iraq, Syria and North Yemen.

But there were significant variations. Iraq, which previously drew many of its arms from the USSR, has now turned to France, which concluded no fewer than seven agreements with it, for Mirage fighters, helicopters, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Italy also emerged as a supplier to Iraq’s navy, agreeing to sell her four frigates, six 650-ton Corvettes and a support vessel.

The Soviet Union agreed to supply the Iraqis with 40 trainer aircraft and unknown quantities of MIG 23s, MIG 25s and MIG 27 fighters,


Libya, whose armory already included 2400 Soviet tanks, also turned to the West in the past year: Spain agreed to sell her three submarines; Canada, light aircraft; France, anti-aircraft missiles; Italy, armored cars; and The Netherlands, one transport aircraft. Kuwait, traditionally supplied by the West, moved in the opposite direction and bought ground and air missiles from the Soviet Union. Britain is selling 287 Shir tanks to Jordan, while Saudi Arabia has contracted to buy AMX infantry combat vehicles and anti-aircraft systems from France.

Among Middle East states, Syria is spending the highest proportion of its government’s defense budget a massive 55 percent. Syria is followed by Israel, with 32 percent, and Saudi Arabia with 28 percent But in terms of octal defense spending, oil-rich Saudi Arabia is way out in front with a colossal $20 billion, compared with Israel’s $5.2 billion and Syria’s $4 billion.

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