WASHINGTON – A $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that had raised eyebrows among pro-Israeli lawmakers was expected to be a done deal Friday at midnight.
The Defense Department notified Congress of the plan last month, and lawmakers had 30 days to try to block or amend the deal. But with no loud objections voiced by Israel, the matter received little debate and lawmakers focused their attention on this month's midterm elections.
The 10-year deal is 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 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 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 sale to the Saudis 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 weren't 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 U.S. and other Gulf allies.
The helicopters, including Apaches, Black Hawks and Little Birds attack choppers, would give Saudi authorities greater ability to protect borders along with military installations and oil facilities.