Commerce and commercial concerns are my areas of expertise; my knowledge of the technological complexities of radar planes and military equipment is no greater than any well-read American's. From a purely commercial point of view, there are those who argue that Saudi Arabia would get more for her investment if she bought British Nimrods. Our political and military leadership, however, decided that the AWACS system would be best suited to providing us with essential advance warning we need to guarantee that our planes can respond quickly and accurately to enemy attacks on our strategic installations, particularly the oil complex in the Eastern Province.
Now, however, what had been a straightforward assessment of Saudi Arabia's military needs by our leaders, with the advice of their American counterparts, has become an unfortunate controversy that focuses not on American national and security interests, nor on Saudi Arabian national or security interests. Instead, the focus is on the speculative vulnerability of Israel as a result of this sale.
As one who had the fortunate experience of working as the first coordinator of the Saudi Arabian-U.S. Joint Economic Commission in 1974, and in my many years in the United States as a student and visitor, I find that this focus does little justice to the wisdom of American leadership.
Having faced a similar controversy in 1978 when we bought the F15s, we expected controversy over this deal as well. But we did not expect the intensity of debate that has surrounded the AWACS sale. The issue will be decided one way or another by Oct. 30, and most probably the sale will be approved -- after the usual consolation prize of Israel. But when all is said and done, everybody will feel just the way the late Vince Lombardi described his feelings after a Redskins tie: like kissing your sister.
It is the focus of this present controversy, as well as its existence, that will be remembered long after the planes are paid for and delivered. One has to keep in mind that there is much more involved in the controversy than the relative technological sophistication of the Boeing 707s with their electronic gadgetry that belongs to the '60s.
The issues at stake here are our bilateral relationship with the United States, America's strategic posture in the Middle East, and the grip of the Israeli lobby on America's ability to act in its own interest.
When we Saudis reflect on the developing debate over the AWACS, we cannot fail to see the contrast between the way the United States treats Israel and the way we are treated. Nor can we help seeing the irony in the eagerness to provide Israel with whatever she demands -- often at the expense of American taxpayers -- while getting approval of Saudi Arabia's requests, completely paid for by our government, is like pulling teeth.
The AWACS are being opposed on the basis of an imagined threat to Israel. Yet when Mr. Begin actually violates the air space of others, bombing Beirut and Baghdad, and violates his country's agreement with the United States on the use of American weapons, all he gets is a slap on the wrist. So much for the long-promised evenhanded policy in the Middle East.
When we look at this inequity, we cannot fail to compare the complexities involved in dealing with the United States and the ease with which we can deal with European powers on matters political and military. When the French president visits us by the end of this month, and when our crown prince visits Britain, we will not be looking for soft shoulders to cy on. Most probably, impetus will be given to an already existing trend toward diversification of our relations with the big powers.
This process was started in the mid-70s as a result of such restrictive American legislation as the anti-boycott law, the anti-trust laws and the tax laws relating to Americans working abroad -- and was helped by Japanese and receptiveness to our requests. What is needed is a careful watch on this "everyday" aspect of our relationship, not a constant monitoring of our political leaders for a sudden and "radical" reaction in case the AWACS sale doesn't go through.
The present state of affairs in our bilateral relationship is complicated by, first, the failure to gain a tangible movement toward resolving the Palestinian situation and, second, by what increasingly appears to be an invincible Israeli lobby in this country.
We have seen a great number of U.S. senators and congressmen express their opposition to the AWACS sale even before the administration has presented its case. This does not merely reflect the power of the Israeli lobby (a power that is being brought into the open -- a healthy development for both the American political system and Arab-American relations). It also shows that we Saudis are being taken for granted by those who have their eyes on their own political gains, with little regard for what we perceive as the larger interests of the United States and its friends in the area.
So the question becomes: will Saudi Arabia, as a result of the AWACS controversy, continue to be blamed whenever she receives a promise from an American administration; does she need to get such a promise cleared first with Mr. Begin, or whoever is Israel's current leader, in order to guarantee a fair hearing?
Saudi Arabia has proven her friendship with the United States in different areas and at the most critical of times: we are producing far more oil than necessary to finance our development; we have conducted our investments in a most responsible manner and continue to support the American dollar; we have helped reorient certain regimes in the area toward a pro-Western posture; and we counseled caution and moderation to our neighbours, including the Palestinians.
Those of us who have come to value this friendship are watching the current debate with serious concern. Whether or not the AWACS sale is approved, we will have to prov vide answers to the pointed questions and raised eyebrows about our American connection. After 50 years of constructive partnership with the United States, we Saudis find ourselves today at a loss to answer.