MORE ARMS for the Saudis? Of course. They're friends, they're on the front line, and they're not only potential combatants but, unlike the United States, potential target and booty as well. It is not irrelevant that they pay cash. Prompt further American arms shipments would have the military utility of filling in the security gap illumined by the Gulf crisis. Their political utility would lie in demonstrating, to Saudis and Iraqis alike, American constancy. Americans, with their own forces now deeply committed to the Saudis' defense, can only be cheered to see them taking more of their defense upon themselves.
But what kind of arms for the Saudis and when? The Bush administration's first response to Saudi pleas was a package of dimensions fit for the Guiness Book of Records -- $21 billion. This was careless. It put together equipment sought right off and other equipment sought over a longer run. The package included arms useful in a context of the current conflict with Iraq and arms with a potential relevance to a later conflict with Israel. The administration should have seen the oil-and-water quality of this combination. It should not have put the burden on Israel's friends in Congress to make the point. When they did, the administration, fortunately, quickly folded.
The Israelis are understandably alarmed to think that the Arab governments that refuse to sit down and make peace with them are using the Gulf crisis to accumulate extra American arms. Their nightmare of losing their overall qualitative edge is made the more plausible by the new double possibility of Iraqi ascendancy and other-Arab strategic gain. Their response has been to try to limit what new support America offers Arabs to Gulf-centered purposes and meanwhile to ask Washington for compensatory aid and arms. All this will no doubt be worked out in coming months, not without some bumps and bruises.
But if the Saudis are extravagant in asking for arms projects in the tens of billions, then the Israelis are myopic in relying exclusively on military means for their security. Some part of Israel's danger arises from the states in its neighborhood that reject the idea of Israel, but some part of it arises from the alienating effects of its own decision to hold on to the West Bank rather than to deal it back for peace as it promised in U.N. Resolution 242. This is hardly a moment for a fresh reach for Arab-Israeli accommodation. But the subject needs to be discussed in the same breath as a post-crisis arms balance in the Middle East.