The Obama administration notified Congress on Wednesday that it plans to sell up to $60 billion in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia in one of the largest-ever single U.S. arms sales, a deal intended to counter the rising influence of Iran.
State Department and Pentagon officials told lawmakers that the sales that will include 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.
The sale, first revealed in September, has been in the works for months and is designed to strengthen the defense forces of Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, and counter Iran as a regional power in the Persian Gulf.
"This proposed sale has tremendous significance from a strategic regional perspective," said Andrew Shapiro, the assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs who announced the deal.
"It will send a strong message to countries in the region that we are committed to support the security of our key partners and allies in the Arabian Gulf and broader Middle East," Shapiro told reporters. "And it will enhance Saudi Arabia's ability to deter and defend against threats to its borders and to its oil infrastructure, which is critical to our economic interests."
Congress has 30 days to block the deal, but the officials said they did not expect significant opposition despite concerns by some lawmakers' about the impact the sales might have on Israel's security.
Shapiro and Alexander Vershbow, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said the sales would not affect Israel's qualitative military edge in the Middle East and that Israel is not expected to object.
Israeli officials have said previously that they were not pleased with the proposed sales but would not try to prevent them.
Iran is now seen by Israel, the Gulf Arab states and the West as a significant and unpredictable threat that has changed the old calculus of the region's balance of power. The U.S. is realigning its defense policies in the Persian Gulf as Iran improves the range and accuracy of missiles and other weapons that could threaten Israel or U.S. allies in Europe.
Vershbow said the new and upgraded F-15s would be key to 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, will give Saudi authorities greater ability to protect borders along with military installations and oil facilities.