July 7, 2011

U.S.-Saudi Arms Deal Targets U.S. Public

The Arab Spring may have brought them even closer together. At the least, Washington and Riyadh’s relationship has withstood the massive flux of over 100 million protesters demanding self-determination from their alliance. Yet the power pair is also struggling to stay afloat during a revolutionary wave, battered by encroaching threats to their regional influence. Their latest show of force - a new $30 billion arms deal - displays weakness more than strength.

200 of Germany’s most advanced tank, the Leopard 2A7+, and an expanding naval fleet have their practical military applications. Saudi Arabia presumably wishes to shore up its internal defenses and its border with Iraq, in addition to securing the Persian Gulf. Some analysts attribute the deal to false economies created to fuel the U.S. defense industry, a truth that bundles with other motives. Militarization justified by Iranian hegemony provides a second overpowering drive. Factor in the entirety of the Middle East’s situation, though, and the deal appears to be one big promotion: 30$ billion in propaganda.

The rich don’t hesitate to spend lavishly on their image.

Publicity may sound counterintuitive in the cone of silence enveloping the arms deal, and all the wrong areas are being highlighted, but unsubtle messages can be found throughout Riyadh’s “commerce.” The notion of a “threat to Israel” is flagrant propaganda, immediately revealing ulterior motives. Saudi Arabia and Israel enjoy favorable relations, relatively speaking, and are working towards the same purpose in Iran and Lebanon. Although Israel has viewed foreign aerial systems with more suspicion, media elements have played up a non-existent threat.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told reporters in response to Riyadh’s transaction with Berlin, “it is in the nature of such matters that one does not speak about them publicly. But I can assure you that we fully and completely trust Germany’s government.”

Many observers are asking why, exactly, does Saudi Arabia need to continue arming itself when these weapons are rarely, if ever, deployed for active service. Iran inevitably crops up as an all-purpose answer, and for good reason. Threats of Iranian aggression serve as its own terrorism, a psychological umbrella meant to unnerve those that would challenge Saudi Arabia’s regional hegemony. Arms deals are justified and militarization of the Middle East’s air and sea proceeds accordingly. All of these actions form patches of the global umbrella the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi triumvirate are constructing around Iran.

Perhaps it would be wise to leave Saudi Arabia’s latest business at that. However the following theory, while seemingly illogical, appears to be unfolding as well. With propaganda directed at Iran, its satellites and those states under Saudi influence, the psychological impact of its latest purchases cannot go unmentioned. That this propaganda is of low quality appears to be of little concern to Riyadh, as the revolutions don’t serve as its main targets. Despite its use of “dialogue” to quell uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain, the Kingdom doesn’t seem concerned with winning hearts and minds in the region.

Perceiving the Leopard 2A7+, a highly mobile tank designed for low-intensity conflict, as a direct threat, Bahraini opposition figures wasted no time criticizing the agreement and Saudi Arabia’s wider influence in their government. Germany’s government is largely under fire because of Riyadh’s suppressive influence in the Arab Spring.

In the end Germany’s tanks may symbolize nothing more than Saudi Arabia’s desire for advanced weaponry. Nevertheless, Washington and Riyadh are communicating to each other’s capital through their militaries, judging by their mutual position and dependency. Just because the exceptional strength of their alliance is holding doesn’t mean that isn’t slowly eroding. After a divergence over Egypt’s revolution, Washington and Riyadh seemingly buried their differences by trading an invasion of Bahrain for a NATO mission in Libya. Except Syria’s revolution split the governments on how to proceed; policy in Yemen and Bahrain, while still functioning, is much less stable.

The totality of the Arab Spring and its effects on U.S.-Israeli-Saudi relations has generated a significant level of apprehension in Washington. Only last year the Kingdom had positioned the region on its terms, but the Arab Spring has cast its shadow war against Iran into new doubts. Now U.S. lawmakers aren’t as positive of Riyadh’s actions and must look over their shoulder when supporting revolution. $30 billion in arms contracts may seem like an odd way to reassure the U.S. public, but those unconcerned with Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolution won’t notice.

As a result Riyadh hopes to counter the Arab Spring by exploiting unrest and further legitimizing its alliance with Washington, similar to those arms deals that underpin U.S.-Israeli relations. The King is speaking to those Americans and lawmakers who supported Mubarak, who accept the Fifth Fleet as sufficient reason to crush Bahrain’s revolution. They believe President Barack Obama forced Ali Abdullah Saleh out of Yemen. They advocate aggressive deterrents against Iran and want to know that Saudi Arabia has America’s back, as if its support was ever in doubt. Many Americans support Muslims in their quest for liberation, but many others, unfortunately, view the Arab Spring as a negative development.

These people will be soothed, if only temporarily, by the continual flow of U.S. arms to America’s “best friend” in the Middle East.


  1. This is part of the long standing deal between D.C. and the House of Saud.
    You give us oil, we will protect you.
    You give us oil, we will pay you in $.
    You will buy our T bills, and our military equipment.
    We will modernize your country. Think [Bechtel].
    You will pay us.
    It is one viscous circle of hypocrisy and death.

  2. A complex arrangement to be sure, deeply rooted in history, America's MIC and global economics, and thus almost impossible to break. The Arab Spring is far from over though. Washington and Riyadh will try and stick together but drifting apart may be inevitable.