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$60B U.S.-Saudi Arms Deal Sealed

WASHINGTON -- A $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that raised eyebrows among pro-Israeli lawmakers was expected to be a done deal at midnight Friday.

The Defense Department notified Congress of the plan last month, and lawmakers had 30 days to try to block or amend the deal. Without loud objections voiced by Israel, the matter received little debate and lawmakers focused their attention on the Nov. 2 congressional elections.

The 10-year deal is considered one of the largest-ever single U.S. arms sales. It is intended to strengthen Saudi defense forces as a counter to Iran's growing power in the Persian Gulf region.

The package includes 84 new F-15 fighter jets, upgrades to 70 existing Saudi F-15s, 190 helicopters and a wide array of missiles, bombs and delivery systems, as well as accessories such as night-vision goggles and radar warning systems.

In a Nov. 10 bipartisan letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, 198 House members asked for assurances that the sale would not hurt Israel's military edge in the Middle East.

Gates and Clinton responded in a letter signed Tuesday that they were confident that Israel's military prowess would not be undercut by the deal because of special attention paid to its close ally through U.S. arms sales and other initiatives.

"Our commitment to Israel's QME (qualitative military edge) is rock solid and long-standing," they wrote.

Israeli officials said they were not pleased with the proposed sale but would not try to prevent it.

The new and upgraded F-15s are aimed at accelerating defense cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia as it would standardize the fleet of the Saudi Air Force and make it more compatible with that of the United States and other Gulf allies.

The helicopters, including Apache, Black Hawk and Little Bird attack choppers, would give Saudi authorities greater ability to protect borders along with military installations and oil facilities.

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