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Last December it was quietly announced by the US Air force that part of the $60 billion arms deal the Obama administration had secured with the Saudis included the training of pilots and flight crews for the 84 new F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets included in the package. The planes can reach speeds of Mach II and can pack missiles, bombs and 20mm cannons. They are capable of air-to-air or air-to-ground combat.
The deal has not been finalized, but it has been announced that the pilots will be trained at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. The first pilots are due to arrive in 2013, and training is schedule to run from 2014 to 2019 with the possibilities of a program extention.
Nick Turse posted the story at Al Jazeera, and quotes Congressional supporters Mike Simpson, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo of Idaho. Turse finds it ironic that all three opposed building the Mosque at ground zero in NYC, yet open their arms to Saudi pilot training. Most of the pilots to hit the World Trade Center were, of course, Saudi, and the only planes permitted to fly over the US on 9/12/2001 were those ferrying the members of the House of Saud home.
You can read about the rest of the arms package here; it is reportedly the largest one in history. Read Nick Turse’s description of the skirmish developing over the deal in Idaho here; it has its own humor woven through it.
The greater outrage to me is that this week Saudi tanks and 2,000 troops rolled into Bahrain to help the government quash the pro-democracy demonstrators, effectively spitting in the eyes of Secretary Clinton and Robert Gates all of whom had ‘urged restraint’ by the government forces and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Gates had met with the King on March 12 purportedly to suggest some carrots he might offer the protestors.
When news came that government forces were firing on protestors from helicopters, tear-gassing them, and firing on ambulances deployed to help the injured, the President said while addressing state violence in Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen: "The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries, and wherever else it may occur."
Turse reports that after viewing video of police and security violence, the administration was in the process of deciding whether or not Bahrain had committed human rights abuses that would necessitate cutting of further arms assistance, then backed off.
“In the weeks since, Washington has markedly softened its tone. According to a recent report by Julian Barnes and Adam Entous in the Wall Street Journal, this resulted from a lobbying campaign directed at top officials at the Pentagon and the less powerful State Department by emissaries of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and his allies in the Middle East. In the end, the Arab lobby ensured that, when it came to Bahrain, the White House wouldn’t support “regime change,” as in Egypt or Tunisia, but a strategy of theoretical future reform some diplomats are now calling “regime alteration.”
The six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council include (in addition to Bahrain) Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which have extensive ties to the Pentagon. The organization reportedly strong-armed the White House by playing on fears that Iran might benefit if Bahrain embraced democracy and that, as a result, the entire region might become destabilized in ways inimical to U.S. power-projection policies. "Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule," according to a U.S. official quoted by the Journal. "Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail."
He outlines the incredible ‘marriage’ between the US and the Gulf State Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) and the Pentagon, which acts essentially as a weapons dealer for the region as it fears possible cut-backs to its budget.
Bahrain’s population is majority Shia (70%); some believe that events there resemble yet another proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran and Shiites around the world are reportedly furious at the introduction of Saudi troops and tanks, which have been reportedly garrisoned near the palace.