Saudi King Salman comes to Washington seeking a new navy

It's no secret that Saudi Arabia's King Salman has been at loggerheads with the Obama administration over their negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran. Last May, Salman snubbed the president when he refused to attend a meeting of Gulf states in Washington. But now that the deal appears inevitable, the king wants to get the most security assistance out of the US that he can, as the Saudis and other regional players await the lifting of sanctions on Iran that would give Tehran tens of billions of dollars to try and destabilize the region.


Saudi Arabia and Iran are opposed on a number of regional issues, especially the 4 1/2-year-long Syrian civil war and unrest in Yemen, where a coalition of Arab states led by Riyadh - assisted by the United States - are targeting Iran-allied Houthi forces.

The Obama administration is focused on providing assistance the president promised at the Camp David summit, including helping Gulf states integrate ballistic missile defense systems and beef up cyber and maritime security.

Despite the tensions, the two countries depend on each other on crucial security, business, and economic issues.

Saudi Arabia remains the world's largest oil exporter, and its commitment to pumping oil freely despite a recent price decline has helped contribute to sustaining the U.S. economic recovery. Obama and Salman will discuss global energy markets during the visit, the White House said.

The Gulf state is also in advanced discussions with the U.S. government about buying two frigates based on a coastal warship that Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) is building for the U.S. Navy, a deal valued at well over $1 billion.

The sale would be the cornerstone of a long-delayed multibillion-dollar modernization of the Royal Saudi Navy's Gulf-patrolling eastern fleet of aging U.S. warships and would include smaller patrol boats.

Dan De Luce at Foriegn Policy suggests that up to $20 billion in arms and support might be in the pipeline for the Saudis:

Although Obama administration officials declined to discuss details of the potential arms packages, they said Washington shared Riyadh’s worries about Iran’s “malign” activities in the region, a reference to Tehran’s support for proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and elsewhere.

“We understand that they have concerns about what Iran could do as their economy may perhaps improve along with sanctions relief,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, told reporters Wednesday.

“We’re focused on very concrete capabilities that can enhance our Gulf partners, including Saudi Arabia, in working together and with us to push back against those Iranian activities that concern us,” Rhodes added.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have modern air forces and ground vehicles, but American officials said the United States wanted to help them with “maritime security” and building up their cyber, intelligence, and special forces capabilities. Such moves would be designed to boost the Gulf states’ abilities to counter unconventional threats from Iran’s proxies.

Given Israel’s relatively muted response to growing support in Congress for the Iran deal, Jerusalem also appears ready to turn the page and explore what they could get from Washington, former officials and analysts said.

Talk of a 10 year deal with Israel that would include increased military assistance makes one wonder why the Iran deal - which is supposed to make the region more stable and secure - has so many countries running to the US begging for military assistance? 

In the short term, the Gulf states can probably resist Iranian pressure to overthrow them. The use of proxies has its limits - especially against well equipped military forces. And the current run down state of the Iranian military would preclude a direct attack by Tehran.

But a couple of hundred billion in sanctions relief can go a long way to rebuilding the Iranian's capabilities. If, as many observers believe, Iran seeks to act as the regional hegemon, what happens over the next decade will probably determine the fate of the Middle East for the rest of this century.

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