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Mideast Arms Sales Not So Bad

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
April 12, 2011
Daily Beast

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The Mideast is awash now in popular awakenings, always in oil and, often overlooked, in arms. States like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have jet fighters and rockets to rival or exceed the conventional military muscle of European powers like Britain and France. And Mideast states are buying more firepower over the next four years, with totals approaching $123 billion for U.S. sales alone. Of this, the Saudi share could be upward of $60 billion for even more front-line aircraft and missiles, making it the largest U.S. arms sale in history.

The Libyan government is fighting NATO today with the very arms eagerly and recently sold by Italy, France, and Britain, when these allies chose to look upon Col. Muammar Gaddafi as a tolerable weirdo, a reliable supplier of oil, and a good arms customer. Iran, of course, with its missile arsenal and its open arms pipeline to radical groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, serves as principal reason for most Western arms sales. Despite all the nightmares that can be conjured from these growing arsenals, Western policymakers reckon otherwise. They feel that their arms sales do far more good than harm—and they're probably correct, at least for the foreseeable future.

One big reason is money. Sure it sounds crass, but arms sales are quite profitable, and a partial but consequential offset for those high-flying oil bills. Business is business, after all. The Arab oil states sell Europe and America oil at exorbitant prices, and the big weapons producers—the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and now even China—sell weapons to Arabs at equally exorbitant rates. Arms bills don't begin to offset oil bills, but everything helps. The $60 billion Saudi bonanza would likely guarantee 77,000 high-paying jobs in America, according to one estimate.

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