Israeli Official Troubled By US-Saudi Arms Deal

Two Likud ministers on Sunday voiced concern about Israel’s ability to retain its qualitative military edge in the Middle East, in the first government responses to the $110 billion arms package signed between the US and Saudi Arabia over the weekend aimed at bolstering the Sunni kingdom’s defenses against Iran.

“Saudi Arabia is a hostile country and we must ensure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is preserved,” Likud Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday, according to the Kan news broadcaster.

The energy minister indicated Washington did not consult with Israel before inking the massive arms deal.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons deals is something we should receive explanations about,” he said.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Sunday similarly expressed reservations about retaining Israel’s military edge, while voicing cautious optimism Trump’s visit would strengthen regional anti-Iran alliances.

“President Trump’s visit strengthens the anti-Iranian camp in the region and presents an opportunity to advance regional security and economic cooperation as a foundation for regional peace,” Katz said in a statement.

“A regional coalition should be built under American leadership to block and push back Iran,” he said. “At the same time Israel’s qualitative military edge should be maintained.”

The $110 billion deal for Saudi purchases of US defense equipment and services came at the start of an eight-day trip that will also take Trump to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Vatican and meetings with leaders in Europe.

Trump on Saturday hailed the series of business deals, with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir saying they were worth more than $360 billion overall.

“That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States,” Trump said after talks with Saudi King Salman. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Twitter that the defense agreement was the “largest single arms deal in US history” and said other deals amounted to $250 billion in commercial investment.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the intent of the arms deal was to support Riyadh “in particular in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia’s borders.”

He said the arms package “bolsters the kingdom’s ability to provide for its own security and contributing to counter-terrorism operations throughout the region.”

Earlier this month, a senior White House official told Reuters the US-Saudi Arabia arms deal would not erode Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

The State Department said the wide-ranging deal would cover five specific areas, including border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, and cybersecurity and communications upgrades.

“Included are offers of extensive training and support to strengthen our partnership and the Saudi armed forces.”

The package includes tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. On the naval side there are “Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships, helicopters, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems.”

The release said that it would also include Patriot and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD), which was recently deployed by the US in South Korea to defend against the threat of North Korean missiles.

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  1. Ahead of President Trump’s two-day visit to Israel, one minister expressed concerns Sunday over the U.S.’ $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which was finalized over the weekend.

    Yuval Steinitz, a senior cabinet member and close confidant to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called Saudi Arabia a “hostile country” and added that the deal was “definitely something that should trouble us.”

    Steinitz’s concerns came as Trump made his way to the U.S.’ strongest Middle Eastern ally. Trump signed the big arms deal in Riyadh on Saturday and Sunday called for unity between the U.S. and Middle Eastern nations in the fight to “stamp out extremism.”

    Aside from talks about the deal with Saudi Arabia, Trump is expected to address several key issues with Israeli leaders, including laying the ground work for a possible peace deal with the Palestinians. Trump also plans to visit the Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall during his time in Israel.

    Trump has not said how he plans to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians as he seeks the so-called “ultimate deal.” Though, senior adviser Jared Kushner and business lawyer Jason Greenblatt have been put in charge with coming up with some sort of plan to get a deal on the table.

    White House aides have played down expectations for significant progress on the peace process during Trump’s stop, casting it as more symbolic than substantive. Yet Trump may still need to engage in some delicate diplomacy following revelations that he disclosed highly classified intelligence Israel obtained about the Islamic State with top Russian officials, without Israel’s permission.

    While Netanyahu in the past has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has been vague about this goal since Trump took office.

    A senior official who was part of the Palestinian delegation said Trump is planning to try to relaunch peace talks, with a goal of reaching an agreement within a year.

    The Trump administration rejected a request from the Palestinians to push for an Israeli settlement freeze, but promised to sort out the issue during peace negotiations, according to the official.

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