- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2007

The best argument for the necessity of American victory in Iraq was made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Aug. 28 when he declared his regime was “prepared to fill the gap” if U.S. forces withdrew. To give meaning to Tehran‘s claim, the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army of Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr appeared poised to take control of the key Iraqi city of Basra in the wake of a British pullback. And attacks by the Mahdists on rival Shi’ite groups in Karbala took more than 50 lives during a major religious festival. Sheik al-Sadr plans to strengthen his militia over the next six months to prepare for the end of the U.S. surge.

President Bush responded to the Iranian threat in his speech to the American Legion, but he is already doing more than just threatening to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. At the end of July, the State Department unveiled a series of arms sales in the region to help contain Tehran. In her July 30 announcement of the potential sale of $20 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the arms will “support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.” The military aid to the Saudis and Gulf states will run in parallel with an increase in military aid to Israel ($30 billion) and Egypt ($13) over the next decade.

The memorandum with Israel was signed Aug. 16 in Jerusalem. According to Miss Rice, the arms sales to Cairo will “strengthen Egypt’s ability to address shared strategic goals.” The best way to build new diplomatic and security alliances is to pull diverse states together against a common enemy.

Last summer, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan openly criticized Iran’s Hezbollah proxy for raiding into Israel. The Sunni Arab states gave Israel the diplomatic room it needed to conduct four weeks of military operations against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran, with its support for militias in foreign lands, its nuclear ambitions, and its aggressive Shia faith, poses a much greater threat to the Sunni world than does Israel, which has no intention of toppling Arab regimes and converting their people to its religious doctrines. Iran does have these ambitions, directed at both Jews and Sunni Muslims.

The new steps to solve the Palestinian problem have been hastened by a sense of common danger to both Israel and the Fatah regime in the West Bank posed by Hamas in Gaza, a terrorist group backed by Syria and Iran. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said Israel will not lobby against the new arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as it has against previous sales.

On August 9, the Tehran Times, the self-proclaimed “loud voice of the Islamic Revolution,” highlighted a speech given in Lebanon by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that attacked the U.S. arms sales as an attempt “to drown the Mideast in war.” Earlier, Sheik Nasrallah had announced his terrorist group had been fully rearmed and was ready for a new round of combat. It’s rather clear where the flood of violence is coming from, and that American aid is needed to dam it up.

Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states do not have the manpower to match Iran, so they need superior weapons interoperable with those of the United States. Cooperation on missile defense, maritime patrol, counterterrorism and energy security is moving ahead with U.S.-led joint exercises. American trainers, advisers and support personnel will have to accompany the new weapon systems.

The “cut and run” caucus in Congress has already voiced it opposition to the arms sales: 114 members of the U.S. House (96 Democrats, 18 Republicans) rushed a letter to President Bush Aug. 2, declaring their intention to vote against any sale of advanced weapons to the Saudis. The letter was organized by New York Democratic Reps. Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler, two very vocal antiwar activists. Those who signed their letter don’t just want to “redeploy” from Iraq, they want to withdraw completely from the region. Such a retreat would leave a security nightmare in its wake.

The thrust of their stated argument is that “Saudi Arabia has not been a true ally in the war on terror or furthering the United States interests in the Middle East.” Yet, the purpose of the arms deal is to draw the kingdom into a closer alignment against a common regional enemy.

For Congress to block the arms sales would undermine what trust there is between Washington and the Sunni world (including the tribal leaders in Iraq who are vital to the defeat of al Qaeda). It would also fuel the propaganda of both al Qaeda and Tehran that alleges America is at war with all of Islam, when, in fact, U.S. security interests are in line with those of a majority of Muslims.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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