Is the Defence Minister Prince Sultan fond of arms deals because of the cash rewards they bring ? or, has the House of Saud been pressurised into buying American arms for other reasons?
At the end of January, there was extensive Press coverage in the United States concerning an accord which stipulated that the Saudi rulers, had in principle, agreed to buy up to one hundred F16 jet fighters for an estimated value of $25 billion - $30 billion. According to an anonymous official who spoke to the press the deal will be signed during a future, but unspecified, visit to Washington by the Saudi Defence Minister.
According to expert sources in the arms trade, the total cost of the fighter planes is just $2.5 billion, whilst the outstanding balance is alleged to cover spare parts and maintenance for the jets and the training of the flight crews !
This deal comes as a surprise for several reasons. To begin with, the Saudi army does not need a new air defence system nor does it even need reinforcement. The Yamama deal with Britain (in the mid-1980's) and the earlier American-bought AWACS and F15 planes more than cover the needs of Arabia's air defence. In addition, none of these planes have ever been used.
What is even more surprising is that the deal comes at a time of dire economic crisis in the Kingdom: The Government's total debt has spiralled to more than $100 billion and if one includes unemployment (already at a staggering 25% of the active population), rising inflation, the rapidly decreasing income level per capita and poor social services, one cannot find any justification for new, very costly and otherwise unwarranted military spending.
It is equally interesting, and curious to say the least, that the deal has come at a time when the Saudi rulers are basically at the mercy of America, with the latter literally occupying Arabia and looting its resources against a background of anti-American guerrilla operations. So, is the deal a mere deal, or does Washington have a few cards up its sleeves which enables it to put a knife to the House of Saud's throats? Moreover, why would Riyadh enter into such a new deal when it has already passed deals with the United States totalling $25 billion and whose payment facility spreads to the year 2,000.
This deal also comes at a critical time in the bitter dispute between the different members of the House of Saud over the succession to King Fahd. However, if, as it appears, such a deal does not worry the Americans it is possible that they are already certain of who the eventual victor in the succession conflict will be.
Another reason to be vigilant remains that the leaks concerning the arms deal follow shortly after the FBI's Director Louis Freeh's angry outburst about the Saudi rulers' secretive approach to the inquiry over the anti-American bomb attack at al-Khobar on 25th June last year. At a meeting with Washington Post staff, he expressed his frustration about the lack of Saudi cooperation. The Attorney General, Janet Renois, also made a similar statement on the same day. Was this a coincidence, or did these two officials have the green light to do so for other reasons ?
What is clear is that not only will this arms deal cause even further financial hardship for the Arabian people, but that it may also have serious consequences for America too.
So what are the possible motives behind this deal. Could it possibly be that the Saudi rulers are trying to placate the Americans after having lied to, and embarrassed the Americans about the authors of the Khobar attack ? Or, on the contrary, is the US Administration raising the stakes by using the FBI's Director's angry remarks to strategically secure more leverage over the House of Saud by forcing the deal through?
In our view, the deal is not being used to boost the Kingdom's air defence, nor is it an attempt by Riyadh to placate the Americans in the Khobar bombing affair. Simple though the explanation may be, it appears as if the Defence Minister Prince Sultan believes that he will again make a huge commission on the deal as he did on the Yamama deal with Britain which was revealed by the British press at the time. Clearly his highness has not learnt his lesson.
As mentioned, experts in the Arm's trade have calculated that out of the total amount of $25 - $30 billion spent on the deal, only $2.5 billion is for the actual purchase of the F16 fighter jets. It is, therefore, totally inconceivable that the remaining $22.5 - $27.5 billion is for spare parts, training and maintenance. The reality, (which is now common knowledge) is to be paid in commission to the Sultan himself, his son Bandar and other close advisors and intermediaries such as arms dealers.
This deal will further strain the Kingdom's economy, and thereby generate not only more hardship for the Saudi population but further anti-government and anti-American feeling. Undoubtedly, it could lead to increased anti-American violence.
US press comments, however, gave numerous reasons as to why the deal should not go through. It was argued that if such enormous funds were available to the Saudis, then they would do better to alleviate the population's suffering by spending the amount on much needed social services. The US Press underlined the point that the Saudi economy could not support such expenditure, and noted that America would, by agreeing to this deal, undermine, and thus jeopardise the very stability of the pro-American Kingdom.
Such comments do point to a new awareness in America concerning the dangerous policy Washington is following towards Arabia. But this awareness does not stem from a novel, altruistic notion following on from the Vietnamese, Lebanese and Somali experiences, as unfortunately, it has needed two bomb attacks targeting US military installations in Arabia to drive home to the Americans that perhaps their country is easing itself into yet another quagmire.
But still, some decision-makers in the Clinton Administration stubbornly seek to mortgage Arabia's oil for generations to come; so that if any political shift occurs in Arabia which questions the US domination of the Kingdom's oil resources, then the United States could invoke international law in order to justify a military intervention. In other words, it looks as if Washington is paving the way for the law of the jungle in Arabia, thus inaugurating what Chomsky called the new world disorder.
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