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Israel Not Opposed to Arms Deal
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In a significant departure from past Israeli policy, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert posed no objections yesterday to a new US plan to sell state-of-the-art weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states, saying Iran was the common enemy.

"We understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states and there is a need for a united front between the US and us regarding Iran," Olmert told a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Still, the proposed arms deal - which would include advanced weaponry and air systems that would greatly enhance the striking ability of Saudi warplanes - set off alarms on the Israeli right, with one prominent politician saying he feared that Saudi Arabia, although not belligerent at present, could be taken over by extremists.

The proposed package comes with a sweetener for Israel: a 25 percent rise in US military aid, from an annual US$2.4 billion at present to US$3 billion a year, guaranteed for 10 years, Olmert and officials in Washington said.

Senior administration officials said Friday that President George W. Bush would seek Congressional approval for additional military aid to both Israel and Egypt, which currently gets US$1.3 billion annually.

The officials said that before leaving on a Mideast tour today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would announce those proposals, along with the plan to sell US$5 billion or more in sophisticated weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf states.

The aid packages represent long-standing US commitments to Israel, its principal ally in the region, and to moderate, secular Egypt. At the same time, the US is seeking to strengthen other moderate Mideast allies, largely as a counterweight to Iran's growing influence in the region.

The US and Israel accuse Iran of developing a nuclear weapon, a charge Teheran denies. Iran, whose leader has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map, is viewed by Israel as its main enemy.

Media reports for months have said Israel was trying to hamper the Saudi weapons deal, as it has done with previous proposed arms deals over the years, notably Jimmy Carter's attempt to sell F-15 warplanes and hi-tech AWACS airborne warning and control aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.

Although the Israeli right voiced worries about the latest plan, it stopped short of outright calls to block it.

"I am very concerned," Yuval Steinitz, a key hawk on parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said. He said the US had supplied Iran with fighter aircraft before its 1979 Islamic Revolution ousted the Western-leaning Shah.

"Now those same F-14s are being used to threaten US interests in the region," Steinitz said.

But he indicated he would accept the Saudi deal if some safeguards were attached.

(China Daily via agencies July 30, 2007)

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