Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iraqi Invasion Reverses the Pecking Order in Bilateral US Relations

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iraqi Invasion Reverses the Pecking Order in Bilateral US Relations

Article excerpt

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's seizure of Kuwait on Aug. 2, in what he termed a bid to redraw the imperialist-era geographic borders of the Gulf region, is unlikely to succeed. Ironically, however, the invasion has led to dramatic revisions in US relations with such key Middle Eastern states as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

Perhaps most important, the invasion has prompted many on Capitol Hill to rethink their reflexive support for Israel. This support has often prompted Congress to oppose arms sales to America's Arab allies, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, even when those sales posed no threat to Israel, and to balk at administration attempts to forge a compromise settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But now, all this is changing.

For example, within weeks of the invasion, the Bush administration had drafted and proposed multi-billion-dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with barely a whisper of dissent from Israel or its supporters in Congress. In years past, indeed only months ago, either proposal would likely have provoked howls of protest from Israel and touched off a bruising political fight with Congress. In addition, the administration almost immediately launched a review of its foreign aid program, with an eye toward rewarding the Egyptian government for its support of US policy by easing its crushing $7 billion military debt to the United States.

These initiatives, as well as a host of others, portend changes in US regional policies that will not be completely understood for months or even years to come. Specifically, the diplomatic language that the US has used against Iraq and its attempt to acquire territory by force is likely to compel the US -- at some point in the future -- to play a more aggressive role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In fact, Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), the influential chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, observed the parallels in the two situations almost immediately. The Wall Street Journal quoted Hamilton in mid-August as saying: "If the US opposes the acquisition of territory by Iraq, it may very well be pushed over time to do more about Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza."

Beyond this, the wholehearted support of the Egyptian and Saudi governments for the US measures against Iraq, particularly their open military cooperation, is likely to enhance US relations with both countries. This cooperation is also likely to lay to rest past criticism from the pro-Israel lobby and its congressional backers that these two Arab countries are unwilling to be too closely identified with US regional policy.

While the complete ramifications of the Iraqi invasion remain uncertain, developments over the past six weeks demonstrate a dramatic shift in US policy, and in congressional attitudes, particularly regarding US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Saudi Sales

Less than four weeks after the Iraqi invasion, the Bush administration announced its plans to sell a weapons package worth at least $2.2 billion to the Saudis. Beyond the speed with which it was proposed, the package is notable for two reasons: 1) it has elicited virtually no opposition from the pro-Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or its congressional supporters and 2) it breaks a number of congressional prohibitions that have long governed sales to the Kingdom.

As announced, the package includes: 24 F-15 jet fighters; 150 M-60 tanks; 50 Stinger antiaircraft missile launchers and 200 missiles; and thousands of rounds of armorpiercing, depleted uranium artillery shells for the M-60s, which will give the Saudis the capability to challenge the best tanks in the Iraqi armed forces, the Soviet-made T-72.

The inclusion of the 24 F-15 fighters, the top-of-the-line US combat jet, shatters a longstanding congressional prohibition barring the Saudis from taking possession of more than 62 of the fighters at any one time. …

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