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. Merkel Party Warns US Arms For Gulf Could Set Off Powder Keg

A senior Israeli government source said that under the 10-year defence package, the United States agreed to sell the Jewish state the new generation F-35 fighter jet, advanced bombs and laser-guided missiles. US defence aid to Israel began in 1973 but a regular 10-year aid plan -- with the previous one expiring this summer -- was institutionalised in 1977 as part of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, the official said. The military aid is made up of 75 percent US military hardware, ranging from ammunition to warplanes, with the other 25 percent in cash, which goes mainly towards securing new Israeli-made weapons.
by Staff Writers
Berlin (AFP) Jul 31, 2007
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats are worried that US plans to send a major arms package to Gulf states could inflame a volatile region, a party leader was quoted as saying Monday. The chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, Ruprecht Polenz, told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau that the Middle East was already a "powder keg" and that an influx of weapons could set off. "If you add more explosives to a powder keg, you increase the risk and do not make the region more secure," he said.

Polenz said the warning that the United States hoped to send to Iran with the weapons deal could backfire, leading Tehran to step up its own arms drive.

Hubertus Heil, general secretary of the Social Democrats, partner in Germany's left-right governing coalition, said it was "dangerous" for the United States provide a major new arms package in an "unstable situation."

"President George W. Bush apparently has the gift to always choose exactly the wrong approach in foreign policy," he told reporters.

Foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said Berlin had not received any direct information from Washington on the arms package but that basic principles of foreign policy applied in judging potential arms deals.

"We support what will bring more stability to the Gulf region and that is why we will have to very carefully evaluate these things on a case-by-case basis," he told a regular government news conference.

"The Gulf states themselves must have an interest in resolving possible tensions between them in political talks with each other."

Jaeger said Iran was key to generating more stability in the Gulf region.

"That is why we call on Iran once again to participate in such discussions constructively and with clear intentions," he said.

The United States Monday announced new military pacts worth 13 billion dollars for Egypt, 30 billion for Israel and billions more for Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, in a bid to counter Iran's influence in the region.

Details of the new Middle East military aid injection came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates set off on a rare joint trip to the region, seeking assurances of help in stabilising Iraq.

earlier related report
Israel Announces 30 Billion Dollar US Defence Aid Deal
by Ron Bousso
Jerusalem (AFP) Jul 30 - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a new 30 billion dollar US defence package on Sunday to preserve Israel's regional military superiority, as Washington readied an Arab arms deal to counter Iran. The sizeable hike to annual US defence and military aid to its closest Middle East ally was unveiled by the beleaguered Olmert amid reports of a hefty US arms deal with Saudi Arabia. "In my last meeting with the president of the United States, we agreed that the aid would stand at 30 billion dollars over the next 10 years, meaning over three billion dollars a year, starting next year," Olmert said.

"This is an increase of over 25 percent in the military and defence aid of the United States to Israel," he said, describing the package as a considerable improvement and very important element for national security.

"Other than the increase in aid, we received an explicit and detailed commitment to guarantee Israel's qualitative advantage over other Arab states," said Olmert, whose approval ratings have sunk to single digits amid continuing anger at his government's handling of last summer's Lebanon war.

Current US defence aid to Israel stands at 2.4 billion dollars a year. The two countries are increasingly alarmed by Iran's nuclear ambitions -- which have already incurred international economic sanctions.

Olmert last met Bush at the White House on June 19, when a senior Israeli government source said the new aid scheme was decided upon.

"We understand the United States' desire to help moderate states which stand at a united front with the United States and Israel in the struggle against Iran," Olmert told the start of his weekly cabinet meeting.

A senior US defence official has said that Washington is readying a major arms package for Saudi Arabia with an eye to countering the changing threat from Tehran, Israel's arch foe and determined to press a nuclear agenda.

The Pentagon provided no details on the package, reportedly totalling 20 billion dollars over the next decade, but officials said it will include new weapons for the United Arab Emirates, and military and economic support to Egypt.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, a member of Olmert's centrist Kadima party, dismissed any suggestion that the region was entering a new arms race, in light of the prospective US arms deal in the Gulf and the US hike to Israel.

"This is not an arms race. The weaponry is constantly improving but Israel remains vigilant to possesses advanced weapons and that it keeps its edge over other states," he told reporters.

Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, from the centre-left Labour party, said that it was essential to maintain Israel's armed advantage against the "axis of evil" -- coined by Bush in 2002 in reference to Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

"We are at the forefront of moderate states facing the axis of evil. Sustaining Israel's military superiority is an essential element of the ties between Israel and the United States," he told reporters.

A senior Israeli government source said that under the 10-year defence package, the United States agreed to sell the Jewish state the new generation F-35 fighter jet, advanced bombs and laser-guided missiles.

US defence aid to Israel began in 1973 but a regular 10-year aid plan -- with the previous one expiring this summer -- was institutionalised in 1977 as part of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, the official said.

The military aid is made up of 75 percent US military hardware, ranging from ammunition to warplanes, with the other 25 percent in cash, which goes mainly towards securing new Israeli-made weapons.

But although Uri Bar-Joseph, an Israeli professor of international relations specialising in security concerns, said the news arms deal looked like an achievement for Israel, he questioned whether more cash and sophisticated weaponry could fight "terrorism".

"The security problems of Israel are not security problems that demand more tanks or more sophisticated airplanes... Sophistication and modern arms don't help when it comes to terrorism," he told AFP.

The New York Times reported in April that the US-Gulf arms package had been delayed because of Israeli concerns over the sale to Saudi Arabia of certain precision guided munitions.

earlier related report
Israel cautious on US-Saudi arms deal
Jerusalem, July 29, 2007 (AFP) - Israel adopted a cautious stance on Sunday over a reported 20-billion-dollar US arms package to Saudi Arabia and other regional American allies intended to counter the perceived threat from Iran.

"We have no doubt that the United States would not do anything that could endanger the security of Israel," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin told AFP on Sunday.

She spoke after a senior US defence official said the United States is readying a major arms package for Saudi Arabia with an eye to countering the changing threat from Tehran, Israel's arch foe.

The Pentagon provided no details on the arms package, which will reportedly total 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

But it will include new weapons for the United Arab Emirates, and military and economic support to Egypt, officials said.

The deal is intended to strengthen US allies in the Middle East and counter the perceived threat from Iran, whose nuclear activities have provoked major concern in Israel and the United States.

"These questions were basically brought up during the last meeting between the prime minister and the US president in Washington on June 19," said Eisin.

"On that occasion, the president said he wanted to increase aid to Israel but without mentioning figures," she said.

Israel's Maariv daily said Israeli and US officials are working on a deal that would involve a surge in US defence aid to Israel by some 43 percent or nine billion, raising the total sum of defence aid to 30.4 billion dollars.

The New York Times reported in April that the US-Gulf arms package had been delayed because of Israeli concerns over the sale to Saudi Arabia of certain precision guided munitions.

Asked whether stepping up the military capabilities of a country which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel could pose a threat to the Jewish state, Eisin described Saudi Arabia as a "moderate Arab country engaged in the fight against terrorism in its own country."

"Saudi Arabia also supports a peace initiative with Israel and we hope that it (Riyadh) will play a more active role to encourage negotiations," she said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Chinese Navy To Build Two Carriers With Russian Help
Hong Kong (RIA Novosti) Jul 31, 2007
Kanwa, a Hong Kong defense news agency, said Friday purchases by China of Russian aircraft carrier components suggested that Beijing was planning to build one or two aircraft carriers, possibly by 2015. The agency cited a senior source in the Russian Navy, saying that Russia and China have an agreement to purchase four deck landing systems capable of handling heavy deck-based fighters such as the Su-33 Flanker.

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