The US is pushing ahead with plans for a major boost in arms sales to Gulf states as it seeks to draw them into an alliance against Iran while protecting its regional strategic predominance against competing powers.
The Pentagon notified Congress on 5 December of the potential sale of up to US$10.4 billion in arms and military systems to the UAE and Kuwait. President George W Bush's administration pledged up to US$20 billion in military aid to its Gulf allies in July.
Arab Gulf militaries have been progressively expanding and improving their armaments since the first Gulf War, but this process appears to have picked up pace with Iranian nuclear and missile developments and the descent of Iraq into civil war.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed for a joint regional missile shield and air umbrella, and integrated maritime surveillance and early warning systems in a speech to Gulf delegates at a security meeting last week in the Bahraini capital, Manama.
Gulf states are wary of being drawn into an official regional defense partnership with the US, which could be seen as a provocation by Tehran, but have increased the frequency of their joint military parlays.
Asked by ISN Security Watch if Gulf states are resisting incorporation in a regional defense pact, Chatham House's Dr Gareth Stansfield replied: "I would say that there has been some opposition to that. I think that one thing that has happened with this recent standoff with Iran is that the Arab Gulf states have become much more aware of their own regional interactions and relations."
A further Pentagon announcement is expected in January concerning the Saudi purchase of a military package expected to include advanced US manufacturer Boeing-fabricated bomb guidance technology that transforms unguided bombs into precision munitions Reuters reports. This further notification was delayed after 116 Congressmen joined a Democratic initiative calling for more time to study the Saudi weapons package.
According to the article, less controversial upcoming deals may also include Patriot upgrades for several Gulf states and the Saudi purchase of ships from a new class of coastal patrol ships for the kingdom's Gulf fleet. Middle East Online reports that the Saudis are also interested in upgrades for their F-15s and AWACS at an estimated cost of up to $US620 million.
Congress has the ability to block the mooted deals – which appear to be at an indicative stage - and supporters of Israel in the legislature appear likely to express their opposition to the Saudi guided bomb technology sale.
However a major White House-Congress battle on the issue is unlikely given the greater political salience of Iraq funding and the fact Israel has already been placated through a related 25 percent boost in US military funding.
Director of the Middle East Military Balance Project at Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies Yiftah Shapir explained to ISN Security Watch that the US is seeking to promote a possible future coalition against Iran while "promoting arms sales, since US industry is in fierce competition with the European defense industry and Russian defense industry."
"I think we have to view US weapons sales to the Gulf states as a strategic arrangement within a wider geopolitical context," Stansfield argued.
"Of course it has Iran as a focus right now but I think there are geopolitical games going on that involve Russia and China ands perhaps India as well that keep Pentagon planners very busy. "
Gulf states' military procurements appear designed to offset Iran's missile development programs which have