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Persian Gulf Beefing Up with U.S. Weapons

The Persian Gulf is swimming in billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. offensive weapons, as the Obama administration signals to Iran that it is serious about a military option.

The Congressional Research Service recently reported a massive jump in U.S. arms sales to allies in the Gulf region, with Saudi Arabia receiving the biggest chunk of the weapons pie.

The Washington Times reports:

“The U.S. arms agreements with Saudi Arabia were extraordinary, and represent, by far, the largest share of U.S. agreements with the world or developing world in 2011,” the Congressional Research Service said.

Of $56 billion in total U.S. arms sales in 2011 to developing nations, more than half — $33 billion — were linked with the Saudi kingdom. U.S. defense contractors have seen a sales increase from $14 billion in contracts in 2010 to $56 billion in 2011, mostly thanks to oil-rich Gulf states.”

The U.S. has had long-standing arms sales agreements with its Gulf allies, but prior to 2011, the weapons sold were mostly defensive. The increase in sales of offensive weapons to Iran’s neighbors is both an attempt to deter Iran from its nuclear program and a sign that the U.S. will expect help from its allies in the region should it decide to attack.

And then there’s the dog that isn’t barking here: Israel.  Typically, mass sales of high-tech offensive weapons systems to neighboring Arab states would send Israel into a frenzy of alarm and opposition. Instead, it’s remained deafeningly silent. It looks as if the United States and maybe some other governments have reassured the Israelis that no harm will come to them from these weapons systems—and that the Israelis, too, want lots of powerful weapons in the Gulf for use against Iran. Just who is whispering to whom behind closed doors, Via Meadia doesn’t know, but something interesting is clearly going on.

Via Meadia previously noted that sanctions are unlikely to resolve this dispute on their own. Sanctions plus massive offensive arms sales to bitterly hostile neighbors, on the other hand, just might catch their attention in Iran. And if worst comes to worst, America’s regional allies in any shooting war will have plenty of firepower.

There’s a downside, of course. Let any of those Arab Gulf states fall to radicals, and there are going to be some very powerful weapons in some very hostile hands. Neither Jerusalem nor Washington can be relaxed about that prospect, but the need to deal with Iran, preferably without war, is trumping all other concerns.

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