Tuesday, January 05, 2010

BUNKER BUSTERS FOR THE UAE? CRUISE MISSILES FOR EGYPT?




Washington's open arms


Human nature being what it is, gratitude has its limits. The more we are on the receiving end of a recurring good, the less grateful we become. Nations are likewise susceptible to "What have you done for me lately?" syndrome.

It is fitting, therefore, to acknowledge the ongoing aid Israel receives from the United States. It may not come out of purely altruistic motives, yet Washington's intentions are largely good, and absent its unwavering military and diplomatic backing, the world would be an even lonelier place for our Jewish state.

Within the past several weeks, the US Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed into law an FY 2010 aid package to Israel that includes $2.22 billion in security assistance. This brings the total amount of aid for the year to $2.775 billion. About 75 percent of these monies will be spent in the US. In addition, the US provides "virtual aid" in the form of loan guarantees.

Especially at a time when Americans are hurting economically, this financial support to Israel is deeply appreciated. In light of our shared values and mutual interests, the American people should know that they can always count on Israel.

ISRAELIS also recognize that America has interests elsewhere in our region. For instance, although the US now gets most of its imported oil from non-Arab sources, Saudi Arabia remains a major supplier of crude. Washington has an interest in bolstering Arab allies who may feel threatened by Persian imperialism.

For decades administrations have been selling advanced weapons to Arab states even when Israel strenuously protested these transactions.

Now, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, an arm of the Pentagon, the Obama administration is about to sell yet more billions of dollars worth of armaments to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

For instance, it plans to sell the UAE 12 of the latest C-130 Hercules military cargo planes and 16 Chinook helicopters. The UAE is also interested in a supply of 400 GBU-24s bunker-buster bombs.

The Saudis are in the market for the latest in anti-tank missiles. And on a more modest scale, Jordan will buy aircraft engines and anti-tank guided missiles.

But the sale of weapons to Egypt is the hardest to fathom. Cairo wants state-of-the-art Harpoon II anti-ship cruise missiles ($145 million); four high-speed missile craft for its navy ($1.29 billion), and 450 Hellfire air-to-surface anti-armor missiles. Throw in 156 replacement engines, plus 24 new F16 fighters, and you are dealing with a lot of firepower.

The Pentagon insists none of this will "adversely affect the military balance in the region."

WE'RE somewhat less sanguine about these weapons. Egypt, which faces no threat from its neighbors, officially spends roughly $2-3 billion annually on its military and fields a 450,000-man standing army - on top of its mammoth domestic security apparatus. Cairo recently established a strategic military relationship with its old partner, Russia, and has reportedly expressed interest in the S-400 anti-missile missile on the pretext that it is worried about Iran.

In the context of a cold peace, Israel's relations with Egypt are on an even keel. True, President Hosni Mubarak, age 81, refuses to visit Israel and has made our foreign minister persona non-grata. But he does cordially receive Israeli leaders. For years he did precious little to block weapons smuggling from the Sinai into Hamas-controlled Gaza; now that he is making an apparently genuine effort, he is facing strident domestic opposition. Having quashed reformist political parties, his most viable opponents are Muslim extremists.

Egypt is a poor country with relatively weak political institutions and no assured mechanism for presidential succession. Its stability is one of Israel's highest strategic interests. Practically half of Egypt's 83 million people are under age 25. Many live on two dollars a day. Compounding the official unemployment level of 9% is endemic structural unemployment. Corruption is rampant; infrastructure is crumbling. Does this sound like a country that needs cruise missiles?

Since 1975, America has invested $14.83 billion in a wide array of AID projects to make Egypt a better place for its people. Helping ordinary Egyptians is where Washington's emphasis can continue to do the most good. Adding to Egypt's considerable stockpile of weapons hardly benefits its people. And such weapons could, heaven forbid, one day fall into the wrong hands.

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