Politics

Arming to the Teeth

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    “We believe there is a need for power to protect peace, and strong people with the capability to respond are the real protectors of peace. That is why we are keen to maintain the efficiency of our armed forces.�
    — Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi

Spurred by their growing fear that Iran’s hegemonic pretensions will put them in the crosshairs, concerned that an overstretched America may be unable or unwilling to protect them and flush will cash as a result of high oil prices, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Persian Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms have gone on a shopping spree.

    Military officials from throughout the [gulf] region descended this week on the Idex military trade fair, a semiannual event that has become the region’s largest arms market, drawing nearly 900 weapons makers from around the world. They came ready to update their military capacities and air and naval defenses.

    [ . . . ] If they follow through on the deals announced recently, it is estimated that countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia will spend up to $60 billion this year. The biggest buyer in 2006, according to the defense industry journal Defense News, was Saudi Arabia, which has agreed to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets for $11 billion. It also has a $400 million deal to upgrade 12 Apache AH-64A helicopters to the Longbow standard. The kingdom also reportedly plans to acquire cruise missiles, attack helicopters and tanks, all for a total of $50 billion.

    Kuwait reportedly bought 24 Apache Longbow helicopters, while the United Arab Emirates has continued to take delivery of 80 F-16 Block 60 fighters, with plans to buy air tankers, missile defense batteries and airborne early warning systems. Bahrain ordered nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in an estimated $252 million deal, while Oman reportedly bought 30 antitank rocket launchers in a $48 million purchase and is planning a naval overhaul.

John Kenkel, senior director of Jane’s Strategic Advisory Services, emphasizing that the new arms are meant to deter Iran, says that “It is a message to enemies that ‘We are taking defense seriously’” and “If the U.S. ever does pull back, these countries in the gulf have realized, they may have to fend for themselves.”

Commentary

For decades, Israel has successfully deterred aggression from its much more populous Arab neighbors by investing in a far more sophisticated and deadly military machine. Now, the underpopulated Gulf states are implementing an identical strategy vis-a-vis Iran. At present, their objective is to deter a non-nuclear Iran. Should there be future evidence — even if it is less than conclusive — that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium, and should the Gulf states leaders not have confidence that the U.S. will provide a nuclear shield, the logical extrapolation is that, led by the Saudis, they will seek to acquire nuclear weapons by all possible means.

The possibility of a nuclear, Shiite Iran and a nuclear, Sunni Saudi Arabia separated by only the few miles of water through which passes much of the world’s oil supply is truly frightening. I can think of no better reason to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear weapons club.