Today the U.S. announced a 10-year, $20 billion arms package to Arab Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. “Washington is striving to assure Gulf allies, worried by the growing strength of Iran and war in Iraq, that the United States is committed to the region and will stand by them, with arms sales part of that process,” Defense News reports. Egypt is slated to receive $13 billion worth of arms in a separate deal.
The Arab arms deals coincides with a 25-percent increase in U.S. military aid to Israel — from an annual $2.4 billion to $3 billion, guaranteed for a decade, according to the Associated Press:
“We understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states and there is a need for a united front between the U.S. and us regarding Iran,” [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert told a weekly Cabinet meeting. The rare agreement reflects shared U.S. and Israeli concern with the potential threat of an Iran with nuclear weapons.
But Iran is still years and years away from a viable nuclear program owing to a lack of equipment and expertise, Danger Room points out. And the Persian state’s attempts to stock up on conventional arms is faring just as poorly, thanks to an international arms embargo. Iran reportedly bought a couple dozen modern SA-15 surface-to-air missile launchers from Russia two years ago on the pretext of these being strictly defensive arms. Otherwise, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s military continues to rely on the same weapons Iran used in the 1970s and 1980s, albeit refurbished and upgraded and in many cases expertly manned. It’s not for no reason that Iranian agents are apparently still trying to get their hands on spares for the F-14 fighters the nation purchased back in the 1970s.
Rumors abound of major new arms deals with Russia. The latest has Iran negotiating for 250 Su-30 fighters. That deal, if it ever came to fruition, would make the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force one of the most powerful in the region, on paper. But such a sale is unlikely due to the high cost and potential international backlash against Russia.
It’s much more likely that any new fighters will come to Iran via a sympathetic and off-the-grid third party such as Syria. Air Forces Monthly is reporting that Russia has signed a deal to provide Syria with $1 billion in weapons including eight MiG-31 interceptors built from parts in storage since the 1990s:
The MiG-31 Foxhounds evoked the most comment because the aircraft has never been sold abroad. However, there are suspicions by the U.S. that the actual destination of the aircraft will be Iran and not Syria. The Russians maintain that they were not selling the aircraft to Iran and that their military-technological co-operation ”was in strict accordance with international law and U.N. resolutions.”
As for developing its own modern fighter? Don’t count on it. Iran’s state aviation industry recently unveiled a new fighter concept that would serve only to speed Persian pilots to paradise if they ever faced modern foes, according to Bill Sweetman:
Two AAMs, what looks like a 50-caliber Gatling behind a tiny radar, the inlets located over strakes so that both engines will blow out if anyone attempts to pull g, enormous V-tails — “the invention of the devil,” as my favorite aerodynamicist calls them — designed for minimal effect and maximum radar cross section …
If the recent surge in weapons sales represents a new Middle East arms race, it’s a race Iran is losing by far.