By NewGram Staff Writer
Even as the Middle East rapidly becomes engulfed in a string of proxy wars, sectarian violence, while transforming into a breeding ground for barbaric terrorist groups such as ISIS, the geopolitical phenomenon has brought much euphoria on the faces of American defense manufacturers.
To put the arms race into perspective, here are a few cases in point:
While Saudi Arabia uses F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing to wage war in Yemen, pilots from the United Arab Emirates fly Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. General Atomics and the Emirates are on the brink of signing a deal for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in the neighborhood.
Thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, are refueling Arab arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.
US Defense Industry officials are awaiting requests from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt–for weapons, within a few days.
Countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and are hungry for more. Consequently, American defense contractors are witnessing an upsurge in the dealings of the foreign business department.
Why the boom in sale of armory?
The shift in momentum has erupted ever since the Alliance map was redrawn. In light of the historic de facto alliance between Israel and the Arab nations to stall Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration has been more forthcoming in allowing the sale of advanced weapons in the Persian Gulf.
This is in stark contrast to earlier plans of the United States to put restrictions on the types of weapons that American defense firms could sell to Arab nations, so that Israel maintained a military advantage against its traditional adversaries in the region.
Previously, virtually all sales to the Middle East were based on how they affected Israeli military superiority. There has been a shift in ideology with the Obama administration now showering greater support for the militaries of select Arab nations, particularly those that view Iran as a threat in the region. The change in geopolitical stance is expected to shake things up.
According to Industry Analysts and Middle East experts, the high-tech hardware from the defense industry is likely to see an upswing due to the fortitude and the determination of the wealthy Sunni nations to battle Shiite Iran for regional supremacy.
Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “When you look at it, Israel’s strategic calculation is a simple one. The gulf countries do not represent a meaningful threat to Israel. They do represent a meaningful counterbalance to Iran.”
Who drives the weaponry demand?
The military coffers of Middle East nations is bulging with money, and with a desire to exert their influence over their nations, they have embarked on a shopping spree. The heavy weight shoppers have been highlighted below:
The monarch State of Qatar, another gulf nation, signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense systems.
While the country maintains a modest military force of approximately 12000 men, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, found that in 2010–14 Qatar was the 46th largest arms importer in the world.
Now the tiny nation is betting money on making a large purchase of Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets.
The largest Arab state in Western Asia is also amongst the world’s largest military spenders. In fact, Saudi Arabia has the highest percentage of military expenditure in the world, spending more than 10 per cent of its GDP in its military.
Last year, it spent more than $80 billion on weaponry— the most ever, more than either France or Britain, thereby becoming the world’s fourth-largest defense market, according the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The federation of seven emirates, UAE, has grown its arsenal of weapons significantly over the years. It has purchased modern weapon systems from a wide variety of outside countries, mainly the US, France and Britain.
The Emirates spent nearly $23 billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.
The recent developments in the armory market
Supply follows demand. As money attracts followers, so does the American weapon manufacturers run after lucre.
Boeing opened an office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office there this year.
Lockheed created a separate division in 2013 devoted solely to foreign military sales, and
the company’s chief executive, Marillyn Hewson, said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business — with a goal of global arms sales’ becoming 25 percent to 30 percent of its revenue — in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon budget after the post-Sept 11 boom.
What does the future hold?
According to American intelligence agencies, the proxy wars in the Middle East could last for years, which will make countries in the region even more eager for the F-35 fighter jet, considered to be the jewel of America’s future arsenal of weapons.
The F-35, manufactured by defense giant Lockheed Martin in 2006, is currently in its testing and production stage. From its futuristic shape to the millions of lines of computer code that act as a kind of artificial intelligence, the plane is a complicated beast.
The plan to sell F-35’s to Arab allies is on holds so as the preserve Israel’s military advantage.
This could change dramatically, if Russian President Vladimir V. Putin decides to sell an advanced air defense system to Iran. The demand for F-35 would magnify immensely due to its ability to penetrate Russian-made defenses.
“This could be the precipitating event: the emerging Sunni-Shia civil war coupled with the sale of advanced Russian air defense systems to Iran. If anything is going to result in F-35 clearance to the gulf states, this is the combination of events”, Mr. Aboulafia, a defense analyst at the Teal group said.
While most Americans feel justified with the ‘military support’–as a strategy to maintain peace and stability in the region, experts feel skeptical about the move to augment arms sales in the Middle East. Some even view it as a leading cause for the escalation in the type, number and sophistication in the weaponry in these countries.
They also point towards the misdirections of the arms against civilian populations, specifically in the war raged by Saudi Arabia against Yemen, something that Saudi Arabia denies.
Opinion remains divided over the ethical considerations of arms supply. It is quite evident, though, that no war exists without the US.