The official announcement will kick off a 30‐day review period during which lawmakers could move to block the sale. Although the new House session does not officially begin until January 15 and senators do not return until January 22, Senate Democrats have been briefly opening and closing the body each day during its holiday break, meaning the Upper House remains technically at work; so in actuality, the Senate would have only about three weeks to review the proposed sale.
Congress can block major arms sales if both chambers pass a joint resolution of disapproval. The measure would then require the president’s signature, effectively meaning that Congress would need two‐thirds of both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. At best, such a resolution may pressure the administration to reduce the size of the package. In 1986, for example, such a threat figured in persuading the Ronald Reagan administration to cut back an arms package to Saudi Arabia. But the sale ultimately went through, despite heavy opposition from Israel and its allies in Congress.
When the overall package was announced last summer, it was widely seen as a move to shore up allies in the Middle East and counter Iran’s rising influence, and to provide justification for increased military assistance to Israel. Since then the announcement has initiated a process and debate that has been long, but not that controversial.
Even by the standard of past arms sales to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, traditionally one of the world’s largest arms‐buying regions, these are major arms transfers with the potential to significantly affect the regional strategic balance.
One of the more notable aspects is that the Bush administration plans to sell advanced satellite‐guided bombs, such as the JDAM, which the United States has never before sold to Saudi Arabia, fighter aircraft upgrades, and new naval vessels to six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Reportedly, the Pentagon asked the Saudis to accept restrictions on the range, size and location of the satellite‐guided bombs, including a commitment not to store the weapons at air bases located near Israeli territory.
In what some observers view as a leak designed to embarrass the United States, on Sunday senior Israeli security officials announced that the smart bombs the Saudis will be getting aren’t as smart as the ones the Israelis will receive.
According to the JDAM manufacturer, Boeing Co, recent enhancements to the kits include laser navigators and glide wings that allow jets to drop the munitions from a distance of more than 64 kilometers from the target.
Israel has had JDAMs since 1990 and used them extensively in its 2006 war against Iranian‐backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia, of course, is not lacking for weaponry. Although its status as a weapons buyer in the Persian Gulf is not at the extraordinarily high levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it remains, in the most recent four‐year period, the largest importer of defense technology in the Near East. For the period 2002–2005, Saudi Arabia’s total arms agreements were $8.9 billion in current dollars, making it the leading Near East arms purchaser.
But while Saudi Arabia has been a huge buyer of weapons over the years its ability to integrate them into its military has been problematic. A report by the Washington‐based Center for Strategic and International Studies found: