The United States government said that it has sold a fleet of F-15 fighter jets valued at about $30-billion to Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive multi-year $60-billion deal that Congress approved last year.
Under the current program, Washington will deliver 84 of the Boeing jets to the Saudis and also upgrade the kingdom’s existing fleet of 70 F-15s.
The sale coincides with rising tensions in the Middle East between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and its Shia-dominated enemy Iran, which is believed to be developing nuclear weapons.
Relations between the U.S. and Iran – already very poor – were worsened recently when Iranian military officials threatened it would close down the Strait of Hormuz, the crucial waterway that transports much of the world’s crude oil shipments.
From the U.S. side of the deal, Josh Earnest, deputy spokesman for the White House said the contract will support more than 50,000 American jobs.
In addition, Andrew Shapiro, a senior state department official, said the deal will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East. It will enhance Saudi Arabia's ability to deter and defend against external threats to its sovereignty.”
Paul Adams, a BBC correspondent in Washington D.C. said that timing of this sale in hardly accidental.
He wrote that the aircraft deal: “represents a robust reminder of American support for a key regional ally, just as Iran is warning that it could disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington imposes sanctions on Tehran's oil exports. America's principal allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the [Persian] Gulf states and Israel, all view Iran as the principal threat to regional stability.”
Adams also pointed out that U.S. officials plan to sell $11-billion in arms to Iraq.
“Few in Washington, including Israel's supporters, seriously object to arming Saudi Arabia, but the Iraq deal has its critics,” Adams noted.
“There are doubts about the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's commitment to democracy, and fears that Washington may in fact be arming, rather than creating a bulwark against, Iran.”