Costly arms: The price to be paid may be a Middle East peace

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A $10 billion sale of sophisticated arms by the United States to Middle Eastern countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will help the American arms industry and armed forces but will not improve prospects for peace in that troubled, dangerous part of the world.

Arms sales abroad, an area in which the United States leads all other countries, serves a number of purposes. First, it helps pay for research, development and the provision of arms to America's own armed forces. It helps the U.S. arms industry keep its profits high and increase employment. The provision of arms also reinforces international relations and increases dependence on the United States of nations that America sees as allies.

In the case of these new arms, which the Pentagon announced to Congress last week, U.S. companies will be selling to Israel missiles capable of taking out air defense radar installations, updated air refueling tankers and warplanes, including the V-22 Osprey, the first foreign sale of that troop transport aircraft. To pay for them Israel will receive this year more than $3 billion in U.S. military aid, a new high.

Saudi Arabia will receive new missiles and the UAE will receive missiles and 26 new F-16 fighter aircraft. The two Arab countries, both big oil producers, will pay for their arms purchases themselves.

The politics of the sales are complicated. The United States will be reinforcing the military capacities of the three, each of which considers itself threatened by Iran. The United States does not, however, wish by these arms sales to encourage Israel to attack Iran, since America would be drawn inevitably into the ensuing regional conflict. With the United States having ended its war in Iraq and in the process of ending its war in Afghanistan, Americans do not desire to be drawn into another Middle East conflict, whether it be in Iran, Syria or elsewhere, particularly given U.S. economic woes.

A further complication is that, in principle, in an Arab-Israeli faceoff, Saudi Arabia and the UAE would be on the opposite side from Israel in any military escalation. In terms of U.S. protection of Israel, its situation in the region is worsening as unrest continues and, in some countries, including bordering Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Syria, increases as the Arab Spring proceeds.

On balance, although it may make sense in financial terms, America's pouring more arms into the region does not improve prospects for peace, even though it may help Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE feel more secure.

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