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“We have been selling these countries weapons of varying sophistication for 20-plus years as part of our overall approach to ensuring regional security and stability,” said James Russell, an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

“We really ramped up our entire defense relationships with these countries after we ejected [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein from Kuwait,” said Mr. Russell, a former Pentagon official involved in foreign arms sales. “We went around the region concluding Defense Cooperation Agreements with each of these states, except Saudi Arabia, which provided a framework for arms sales, prepositioned equipment, forward deployed forces, and training and exercises.

“We want these countries to be able to defend themselves and be able to operate and train with us, since we are the ones ultimately guaranteeing the security of the region,” Mr. Russell said.