New US policy may spark arms race

The new US plan to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and other allies in the Middle East to counter growing Iranian influence could trigger an arms race and worsen instability in an already volatile region, say experts. The arms deal, which still requires the approval of the Democrat-controlled US Congress, is one of the biggest ever. It offers a package of $20 billion to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, $13 billion to Egypt and $30 billion to Israel over 10 years. Items include advanced fighter jets, smart bombs, computer systems and missile boats.

“It is an ill-advised strategic approach for geo-strategically containing Iran,” said Steven Wright, associate professor at Qatar University. “It is a flawed logic for Washington to see the arms sales as a means of strengthening its position against Iran and enhancing regional security.”

“Selling more arms to the Gulf countries, along with Israel, will only serve to make Iran’s security concerns more acute and increase regional insecurity,” the Doha-based specialist on Gulf-US relations said. “On the other hand, it will likely prompt Iran to devote more of its

state budget towards defence expenditure.”

Supporting the anxiety about an arms race in the region are reports indicating that Russia is planning to sell 250 Sukhoi jets, including 30 of the most advanced jets it has, to Iran. Further, on Aug. 5, Iran unveiled its new fighter jet — ‘Azarakhsh’ (Lightning). The proposed aid announcement was followed by a visit to the region by Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, last week.

During the visit, Rice dismissed suggestions about shifting the military balance or starting a new arms race or the military aid to the Gulf countries being a “quid pro quo” to get their

assistance in Iraq. “We are working with these states to fight back extremism,” she insisted. But Iran accused the US of trying to create fear and mistrust in the Middle East and aiming to destabilise the region.

A Washington Post report went a step further suggesting that “the US and Iran are now facing off in a full-fledged cold war. The Bush administration is trying to drape a kind of Green Curtain dividing the Middle East between Iran’s friends and foes. The new showdown may well prove to be the most enduring legacy of the Iraq conflict.”

A growing cadre of US congressmen is resisting the Bush administration’s Middle East arms plan. Within five days after the proposed sale was announced on July 27, 114 members of the House, including 18 Republicans, said they intended to vote against the plan.

US policies in the region during the last few years, according to Prof. Gary Sick of Columbia University, is a “marvellous example of political jiu jitsu... The US made possible an emergent Iran by eliminating its Taliban rivals to the east and its Baathist rivals to the west and then installing a Shiite government in Baghdad for the first time in history.”

The new US policy, according to Sick, includes providing “military cover for the Arab Gulf states as they take a more confrontational position vis à vis Iran, which of course produces some juicy profits for the US aerospace industry, but also provides a framework for getting Israeli (and US congressional) acquiescence for selling some significant new military technology to the Arabs.” — IPS