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Israel OK with U.S. arms sale to Saudis

Olmert says it is needed to counter Iran and that a hike in American aid ensures his nation's strategic superiority.

July 30, 2007|From the Associated Press

JERUSALEM — In a break from traditional Israeli opposition to U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that his country understood Washington's plan to supply state-of-the-art weapons to Riyadh as a counterweight to Iranian influence.

Aware of Israel's sensitivity about arms sales in the region, the United States is also offering a sharp increase in military aid to Israel and has assured it that it will retain a fighting edge over its neighbors, he added.

"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," Olmert said at a weekly Cabinet meeting.

The rare agreement reflects shared U.S. and Israeli concern over the potential threat from Iran if it acquires nuclear weapons.

The proposed deal includes advanced weaponry and air systems that would greatly enhance the striking ability of Saudi warplanes.

One Israeli hard-liner warned that Saudi Arabia could be taken over by extremists.

Israel's southern tip is about 10 miles from Saudi Arabia on the Gulf of Aqaba.

The proposed package comes with a 25% increase in U.S. military aid to Israel, from an annual $2.4 billion to $3 billion a year, guaranteed for 10 years.

Olmert said the increase in military aid would assure Israel's strategic superiority.

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