Congress Raises Questions About Saudi Arms Deal

WASHINGTON – As President Donald Trump visited Riyadh on Saturday, the White House signed a $350 billion arms sale deal with Saudi Arabia over the next 10 years, in a move with significant geostrategic implications across the Middle East. However, multiple Israeli ministers have expressed discomfort with the massive weapons agreement, as possibly violating Jerusalem’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) over its neighbors. Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday, “This is a matter that really should trouble us,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman added on Wednesday, “I’m not at peace with the arms race in the Middle East. Weapons sales in the region have reached $215 billion and this is no small sum.”

On Capitol Hill, Members of Congress also raised questions about the Trump administration’s weapons deal with Riyadh. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Jewish Insider on Wednesday afternoon that the agreement “complicates the QME issue. We want Israel to always have a qualitative military edge in that region. It’s great that right now there seems to be a rapprochement between the Sunni states and Israel, but if we’re starting a new arms race to maintain the QME, that’s not a positive thing.”

Across the aisle, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) urged further time to examine the deal. “As we speak, I’m working to learn more. I’m sympathetic to Israel’s concerns so I’ve asked my staff a few hours ago to pull more information so we can see what new agreement was made. I share the concerns of Israel, which is our most cherished and reliable ally in the Middle East,” he said. The Indiana lawmaker also cited his former US military experience working as a foreign military sales officer and emphasized, “the lack of accountability in a number of these programs caused me to be very concerned when dealing with an actor like Saudi Arabia who sometimes is an ally and sometimes is not: sometimes supports our friends, sometimes supports our enemies.”

At the same time, Rep. Doug Collins (R-CA) suggested the merits of the move.  “It’s also a step by the administration to work with, frankly, another ally (Saudi Arabia) in the region,” he explained. Yet, Collins also emphasized, “We’ll look into it in the days to come to make sure there are no gaps (in the QME)  that we see that we need to do here.”

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