Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been in Saudi Arabia this week trying to coax the kingdom into doing something to support the flagging occupation of Iraq, presumably by aiding the Sunni minority that ruled Iraq until the US overthrew them and a Shia regime lead by ayatollahs formerly exiled to Iran was voted in.
Now generally when the US needs to rally the troops to whatever its cause in the Middle East happens to be at the moment, the carrot it holds out is pressure on Israel. We can see this most clearly after the 1991 Gulf War when Israel was cajoled into the Madrid Peace Conference which did nothing to benefit Israel and even less to promote peace. This time, however, they're throwing in a new sweetener: $20 billion worth of arms sales, which will look nice on the mantle next to the $13 billion in military aid to Egypt.
Ironically, Israel's "leadership" is unconcerned with this development. Perhaps Israel has been assured that the weapons going to Saudi Arabia are wired to self-destruct in the event of an extremist take over the of Kingdom. Or maybe they are programed only to work on Iranians. Or the reason is simply that Olmert, in a reverse of the trend toward economic independence begun by the Netanyahu administration, secured from President Bush a further promise of $30 billion in aid over the next decade for Israel.
The increased aid to Israel will be critical, Israeli Cabinet members say, to maintain Israel's "qualitative advantage" over any potential opponent. While its certainly a noble end for Israel to be better equipped than any enemy, especially given its disadvantages in wealth, geography, and demographics versus the Arab world, stop and think about this for a second. If there was no American military aid whatsoever to the region - no $20 billion to the Saudis, no $13 billion to Egypt, no $30 billion to Israel - which side would have a qualitative advantage? Obviously the smart money here would be on Israel. While Israel is one of the world's technology leaders (even more so in security technology) Arab technological achievements are like French military victories - there are a lot of them but you have to go back centuries in the history books to find any. So all military aid and arms sales to the region does is undermine what would be a natural qualitative advantage for Israel based on a more developed society necessitating more aid from the US to Israel to reconstruct the advantage that aid to Arab nations undercut. Because of the inherent security dilemma this ratchets up the potential lethality of future Middle Eastern conflict, thus hurting Israel's human security, and sending the message that "Israel's best friend" is, in the words of Ron Paul, "hypocritically hedging its bets."
On an interesting side note to this from the campaign trail, Rudy Giuliani recently named Norman Podhoretz, the noted neo-con as an advisor. Podhoretz claims that Giuliani would take a much stronger approach to Saudi Arabia, basing this on the famous incident when Giuliani returned a donation for relief from 9/11 from a Saudi prince after said prince laced the presentation ceremony with anti-Israel references. That's all well and good, but one does have to question the liklihood of a change in policy from a man who had no qualms about taking money from the Saudis when it enriched himself rather than his constituents. As Fox News reports:
[Giuliani's firm] also is working for Saudi Arabia. In March the firm
filed papers in a Texas courst case on behalf of Saudi Arabia's oil
Clearly the better policy is that of non-intervention, to stay out of local conflicts and stop arming both sides in preparation for a potential regional war. It will cost the US alot less in terms of money and goodwill around the world and leave Israel in a stronger, more secure position to carry out its own policy on peace and security.