Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:44 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:44 | SYDNEY

Middle East arms bazaar


Sam Roggeveen


23 June 2009 11:40

There's good reason to be sceptical of David Axe's claim at Wired.com that 'regional worries over Iran have propelled a lucrative arms market'. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may talk up the 'Persia' threat, but how exactly would this threat be manifested? Is Iran going to drive Revolutionary Guard tank divisions across US-occupied Iraq and through Jordan so it can invade Egypt?

The same logic applies to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE: how, precisely, could Iran threaten them militarily?

As Axe points out in this longer and more balanced version of his story, there is actually a huge military imbalance in the Middle East, and Iran is at the wrong end of it. Huge deals such as the F-16 sale to the UAE (that's the Block 60 version, which even the USAF doesn't have) just make things worse. They not only worry Iran, but other regional actors as well, and they give Russia another excuse to sell more arms to Tehran.

The 'Iran threat' motivation only makes sense in regard to Iran's ballistic missiles, and in isolation, American sales of missile defence systems to Middle Eastern clients are actually a stabilising move, in that such defences negate Iran's ballistic missile capability without posing a threat to anyone else. In and of themselves, missile defences are a purely negative capability that can deny an adversary an aggressive strategic aim, but cannot help to secure one.

Unfortunately, that logic is undermined when the US, UK and France also sell large numbers of long-range strike aircraft to many of those same countries, a capability that Iran barely has, and which it may feel obliged to balance against.

Photo by Flickr user crpdst2003, used under a Creative Commons license.