With its latest acquisitions from Washington and Europe, the Saudi Air Force will have more fighter-bombers of more advanced models that the Israeli Air Force. Deep concern over this was recently relayed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
debkafile's Washington and military sources that Israel made its concern known with the utmost discretion so as not to be seen as hampering the expansion of the Saudi Royal Air Force as Riyadh gets set to tackle Tehran should Saudi oil exports be sabotaged by Iranian attacks on its oil production or the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, its primary export outlet.
Last month, the US agreed to sell Saudi Arabia 84 advanced F-15SA fighter-bombers worth $29.4 billion. First deliveries are due in 2015. The package included the upgrading of 70 F-15 planes of the Saudi air fleet. Riyadhis also buying 72 advanced Eurofighter Typhoon fighter bombers. All in all, the oil kingdom will have the largest and most sophisticated fighter-bomber fleet in the Middle East.
Israel leaders reminded the Obama administration of its standing pledge to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge in the region. The aircraft supplied to the Saudis will place that edge in doubt.
They voiced two additional causes for concern:
1. One fine day, Saudi Arabia, which has never agreed to peace relations with Israel, may be moved to attack the Jewish state from an air base very close to Israel's shores. That proximity and the size and quality of its air force will allow dozens of warplanes to penetrate Israel's air defenses and drop bombs on southern and central Israel.
2. Israel also fears that four or five Saudi pilots or hired Islamist fliers may one day form an al Qaeda cell inside the Saudi Air Force and conspire to carry out a suicide attack on Israeli cities on the model of al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, most of whose participants were Saudis.
Israeli intelligence officials in close touch with American counterparts asked them if Washington had asked for Saudi assurances about the reliability of the air crews who will man the new F-15SA planes. They were told that no such guarantees had been requested.
For now, Israel has brought its concerns to the notice of the Obama administration without making specific requests to hold up delivery. Israel is conscious that the Gulf region is on tenterhooks over its security and the Saudis are deep in military preparations to beat back potentially aggressive Iranian moves in the wake of the oil embargo approved by the US and the European Union against Tehran's nuclear program.
Jerusalem also takes into consideration the importance to the flagging American economy of the huge warplane transaction with the Saudis which will support 50,000 jobs in the US air industry and 600 American contractors of aircraft parts.
Obama will certainly not be approachable on this issue while running for re-election.
But none of these considerations allays the deep anxiety prevailing in the top echelons of Israel's high military and air command over the radical upgrade awarded Saudi air power providing it with the capacity to outclass and outgun Israel.