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Monday, July 5, 2010     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Obama OKs arms sales to Arab League states
on eve of Netanyahu visit

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama has approved military sales to three Arab League states in advance of his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


  • Related Story: White House announces Obama will demand that Netanyahu extend freeze on settlements July 5

  • The White House agreed to requests worth $500 million by Egypt, Oman and Tunisia for air defense upgrade, aircraft and naval ship support as well as helicopters.

    "The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region," the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.

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    The Pentagon announcements of the Arab requests, which require approval by Congress, came hours after the White House said Obama would press for the extension of Israel's freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank and most of Jerusalem. White House aides said Obama would meet Netanyahu on July 6 amid enhanced Israeli-U.S. cooperation in intelligence, missile defense and security. The administration has not approved an Israeli request for offensive military platforms since Obama took office in January 2009. Instead, the White House endorsed nearly $13 billion worth of Arab arms requests last year, and nearly $10 billion from Turkey.

    Currently, the administration has been examining a request from Saudi Arabia for the sale of 75 F-15 fighter-jets as well as the modernization of scores of other aircraft, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the deal was worth more than $10 billion and approved during the visit to Washington by Saudi King Abdullah in late June.

    The Israeli daily Haaretz said Netanyahu was expected to express opposition to the proposed Saudi deal. The newspaper said Israel has been concerned that Riyad would acquire the same aircraft operated by the Israel Air Force.

    The Defense Department agency has reported two military requests by Egypt. In the first, Obama approved Cairo's request for U.S. equipment to help upgrade Egypt's Skyguard air defense system. In another project, the Egyptian Navy would receive support for its fleet of U.S.-origin warships.

    "This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," DSCA said.

    The biggest request was submitted by Tunisia. The North African state received administration approval to upgrade U.S.-origin helicopters in a deal estimated at $282 million.

    Under the request, Tunisia would acquire 12 U.S. military surplus SH-60F helicopters as part of the air force modernization by the North African state.

    This marked the first approval by Obama of a major military project for Tunisia.

    The administration also approved support and training for air transports sold to Oman. Under the request, the Royal Air Force of Oman would receive help in absorbing two C-130J-30 air transports, procured under a commercial sale with Lockheed Martin.

    "In the security side of things, the commitment of this administration to Israel's qualitative military edge has been — through programs such as the Iron Dome [missile defense program], and through a very close contact through our national security teams is evidence of really a deepening of cooperation," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told a briefing on July 2.

    "The administration is conducting open and completely transparent talks with Israel on the matter, and we are updating Israel on any planned deal to hear its reservations," a U.S. official told Haaretz. "We believe that there are many cases in which the Iranian threat commits us to strengthen the ability of states in the region to defend themselves."

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