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July 28, 2007
Big Arms Sale to the Saudis and Other Allies in the Works
The United States has announced plans to engage in a new round of massive arms sales to Gulf allies, as well as to the governments of Egypt and Israel. This move is being taken in reaction to the provocative steps Iran has taken by not only continuing its nuclear program, but also by being the arms supplier to Syria, Hezb'allah, and insurgents in Iraq. Iran has also been making huge purchases of arms from Russia. Iran has also laid claim to various islands in the Persian Gulf (the Arab nations call this waterway the "Arab Gulf") and has pressured the smaller nations that line the Persian Gulf to accept Iranian suzerainty over the area.
The fear of the Sunnis that the Shiite arc in the Middle East is strengthening is also an element in trying to assuage Sunni Arab concerns by expanding arm deliveries to them. However, one other tactic might be at work-and it is one that helped to bring down the Soviet Union. When President Reagan was briefed that the Soviet economy was weak, he undertook a massive military expansion-hoping to bring the Soviet Union's economy to its knees since he suspected their economy would not be able to match the American build-up in arms and would "go broke" while trying.
The same idea might also be at work now. The Iranian economy-despite a massive increase in the price of oil-is rent by weakness and is faltering. Various people in the Iranian leadership have openly criticized the leadership of President Ahmadinajed and riots have repeatedly erupted throughout Iran regarding the parlous state of the economy. Unemployment is soaring and with a demographic bulge of younger Iranians entering the labor force. Iranian oil output is plummeting and the amount available for export has been declining (helped by massive domestic demand). Some have speculated that the ability of Iran to export oil will end within the decade. The same elements were at work before the downfall of the Soviet Union. That nation had become bogged down in foreign adventures that were draining its coffers (Afghanistan, but also its dependent Eastern European nations, its African adventures, Cuba).
Likewise, Iran has been aggressively spending money bucking up the economic basket-case of Syria; funding terrorists in Iraq, sponsoring Hamas. The arms race helped to destroy the Soviet Union; perhaps there is a feeling the same strategy might be at work again. One further nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union was a massive increase in the export of oil from Saudi Arabia which helped to drastically lower its price (the Soviet Union relied on a high price of oil to drive its economy since it was, by far, its major export item). Unfortunately, the demand for oil is higher now than ever before (the rise of India and China has played a role) and the ability to pump "excess" oil from the Gulf nations has declined over the years. This "card" may not be available at the current time, but surely it is in the minds of Arab rulers-as it is with their Persian rivals.