Arab States, Wary Of Iran, Add To Their Arsenals But Still Lean On The U.S.

Arab States, Wary Of Iran, Add To Their Arsenals But Still Lean On The U.S.
February 23rd, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Arab States, Wary Of Iran, Add To Their Arsenals But Still Lean On The U.S.

Arab States, Wary Of Iran, Add To Their Arsenals But Still Lean On The U.S.
New York Times
February 23, 2007
By Hassan M. Fattah
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 22 — As fears grow over the escalating confrontation between Iran and the West, Arab states across the Persian Gulf have begun a rare show of muscle flexing, publicly advertising a shopping spree for new weapons and openly discussing their security concerns.
Typically secretive, the gulf nations have long planned upgrades to their armed forces, but now are speaking openly about them. American military officials say the countries, normally prone to squabbling, have also increased their military cooperation and opened lines of communication to the American military here.
Patriot missile batteries capable of striking down ballistic missiles have been readied in several gulf countries, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, analysts say, and increasingly, the states have sought to emphasize their unanimity against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“There has always been an acknowledgment of the threat in the region, but the volume of the debate has now risen,” said one United Arab Emirates official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject. “Now the message is there’s a dialogue going on with Iran, but that doesn’t mean I don’t intend to defend myself.”
The Persian Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms, mostly small and vulnerable, have long relied on the United States to protect them. The United States Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain; the United States Central Command is based in nearby Qatar; and the Navy has long relied on docking facilities in the United Arab Emirates, which has one of the region’s deepest water ports at Jebel Ali.
The United States, too, has begun a significant expansion of forces in the gulf, with a second United States aircraft carrier battle group led by the John C. Stennis now in the Persian Gulf and with minesweeping ships.
The expansion has helped calm fears among gulf governments that the United States could pull out of the region in the future, even as it has raised concerns about a potential American confrontation with Iran, accidental or intentional.
As tensions with Iran rise, many gulf countries have come to see themselves as the likely first targets of an Iranian attack. Some have grown more concerned that the United States may be overstretched militarily, many analysts say, while almost all the monarchies, flush with cash as a result of high oil prices, have sought to build a military deterrent of their own.
“The message is first, ‘U.S., stay involved here,’ and second, ‘Iran, we will maintain a technological edge no matter what,’ ” said Emile el-Hokayem, research fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a research center based in Washington. “They are trying to reinforce the credibility of the threat of force.”
Military officials from throughout the region descended this week on the Idex military trade fair, a semiannual event that has become the region’s largest arms market, drawing nearly 900 weapons makers from around the world. They came ready to update their military capacities and air and naval defenses. They also came armed with a veiled message of resolve.
“We believe there is a need for power to protect peace, and strong people with the capability to respond are the real protectors of peace,” said Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, at the exposition. “That is why we are keen to maintain the efficiency of our armed forces.”
The Persian Gulf has been a lucrative market for arms. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman spend up to 10 percent of their gross domestic product on the military, amounting to nearly $21 billion, $4 billion and $2.7 billion, respectively, estimates John Kenkel, senior director of Jane’s Strategic Advisory Services.
If they follow through on the deals announced recently, it is estimated that countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia will spend up to $60 billion this year. The biggest buyer in 2006, according to the defense industry journal Defense News, was Saudi Arabia, which has agreed to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets for $11 billion. It also has a $400 million deal to upgrade 12 Apache AH-64A helicopters to the Longbow standard. The kingdom also reportedly plans to acquire cruise missiles, attack helicopters and tanks, all for a total of $50 billion.
Kuwait reportedly bought 24 Apache Longbow helicopters, while the United Arab Emirates has continued to take delivery of 80 F-16 Block 60 fighters, with plans to buy air tankers, missile defense batteries and airborne early warning systems. Bahrain ordered nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in an estimated $252 million deal, while Oman reportedly bought 30 antitank rocket launchers in a $48 million purchase and is planning a naval overhaul.
“It is a message to enemies that ‘We are taking defense seriously,’ ” Mr. Kenkel said, emphasizing that the new arms were for deterrence.
“If the U.S. ever does pull back, these countries in the gulf have realized, they may have to fend for themselves,” Mr. Kenkel said. “As the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared.”
The most marked change is in the public nature of the acquisitions, which previously would have been kept secret, many analysts here said, itself a form of deterrence.
“They have been doing these kinds of purchases since the ’90s,” said Marwan Lahoud, chief executive of the European missile maker MBDA. “What has changed is they are stating it publicly. The other side is making pronouncements so they have to as well,” he said, speaking of Iran’s recent announcements about its weapons capacity.
Senior United States military officials say gulf countries have become more nervous as Iran has conducted naval maneuvers, especially near the Straits of Hormuz, the main artery through which two-fifths of the world’s oil reaches markets.
“A year ago you could have characterized the interaction with the Iranians as professional,” said Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, departing commander of the Fifth Fleet. “What’s different today has been the number and amount of exercises and the proximity of those exercises to the Straits of Hormuz themselves.”
The exercises were among the reasons for the expansion of Navy forces in the region, he said, but have also raised alarm about the potential for accidents to lead to an unintended war.
Admiral Walsh said that American warships remained in international waters, and that Iranian and American ships kept close watch on one another. Some critics of the Bush administration have alleged that the increased military presence in the gulf risks igniting a conflict.
Admiral Walsh said the increased American presence was aimed at o reassuring gulf states that the United States remained committed to their security, but also welcomed their efforts to build deterrence.
“We have found that we need to be physically present to prevent such armed behavior,” he said of the Iranian maneuvers. “We’re mindful we’re not giving up any water, but also being careful not to take a provocative stance.”

Similar Topics
U.S. Bid To Limit Iran Gets Wary Response
Iran Looks Like The Winner Of The Iraq War
To Contain Iran, U.S. Seeks Help From Arab Allies
What If Iran Gets the Bomb? Good Analysis
Shaking hands with Sadam Hussein