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Mideast Nations Well-Armed With U.S. Weapons

August 14, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Mideast is bristling with billions of dollars worth of modern weapons, much of the arsenal provided by the United States. That includes Kuwaiti missiles now in the hands of Iraq.

Many of the arms transfers to the Mideast have been financed by low- interest, long-term U.S. loans. Israel, at nearly $1.9 billion this year, and Egypt, at almost $1.3 billion, are the world’s biggest recipients of such aid.

Other nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, pay cash for U.S. weapons.

Both the aid program and the cash sales are aimed at supporting friendly governments in the region and assuring the free flow of oil.

That overriding interest caused President Bush to dispatch U.S. military forces to the Persian Gulf last week to shield oil-rich Saudi Arabia from the threat of an attack by Iraq, which overran Kuwait Aug. 2.

Pentagon officials say that while the United States sold arms to Kuwait only infrequently, its arsenals included some U.S. Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and several thousand U.S. Tow anti-tank missiles. All are now believed to be in Iraqi hands.

Most of Kuwait’s fighter aircraft, including two squadrons of French-built Mirage F-1s and several dozen American Skyhawk warplanes, are believed to have been flown to safety in Saudi Arabia.

Before it was attacked, Kuwait had arranged a $1.8 billion purchase of U.S. FA-18 fighter aircraft plus anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.

But the aircraft were not scheduled for delivery until 1992 and a Pentagon official, who asked not to be named, said that if Kuwait remains in Iraq’s control the United States has no obligation to deliver them.

Over the last 20 years, just $1.5 billion in U.S. weaponry was transferred to Kuwait, a small fraction of the arms sent to other Mideastern nations.

Saudi Arabia has been the biggest customer for U.S. arms, with $23 billion in deliveries over that period. Israel has received $11 billion in weapons; Egypt, $6 billion.

Washington has sold Saudi Arabia much of its modern weaponry and is helping that nation modernize its military capability.

Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States acted to dismantle congressional obstacles to arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia.

Defense Secretary Richard Cheney waived a legislative restriction limiting to 60 the number of sophisticated F-15 warplanes Saudi Arabia is allowed to have. The Pentagon official said the Saudis will now be allowed to have 70 F- 15s.

The Saudis previously made a $3 billion purchase of U.S. TOW anti-tank missiles, which are now being produced, the official said. Last year, the Saudis bought 320 M1A2 tanks, which have yet to be built, for $3 billion.

Major Saudi arms deals this year include more than $1 billion for the modernization of the kingdom’s national guard and another $1 billion to modernize the Saudi fleet of AWACS early-warning aircraft.

In Israel, the United States is trying to improve that nation’s defensive capability through a naval modernization program, which includes the construction of submarines, the Pentagon official said.

Israel is also developing and recently tested the Arrow defense missile, which is designed to destroy incoming missiles. Eighty percent of the cost of the program is being borne by the United States.

Egypt has become a major recipient of U.S. military aid since it became the first Arab nation to recognize Israel in 1979. Egypt is now buying Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

More modest U.S. aid, mostly in the form of military training and basic gear, is provided to Jordan - $47.8 million this fiscal year - and to other countries in the Middle East.

For the next fiscal year, the Bush administration has asked Congress for permission to make $4.3 million in arms-sales loans for U.S. allies in the Mideast.

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