Congress allowed the sale of $7.3 billion worth of advanced U.S. weaponry and military hardware to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain last week, despite misgivings by some lawmakers who said the new sales could provoke an arms race and heighten tensions in the volatile Persian Gulf region.

The sale, which the Bush administration proposed last month, is the second major package in an ongoing U.S. program to accelerate shipments of at least $26 billion in new arms to countries that feel threatened by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials said.

The first package -- of 24 fighter aircraft, 150 tanks, and 200 antiaircraft missiles for Saudi Arabia -- was approved four weeks ago. A third package including up to $14 billion worth of aircraft, tanks and missiles is expected to be submitted by the administration in January for congressional review.

U.S. officials said these and other sales in coming months will probably amount to roughly 30 percent more than the total U.S. Middle East arms sales for the past five years, a sharp increase in the conventional arms trade that reflects enhanced Middle Eastern security concerns caused by Saddam's sudden invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2.

The failure of opponents to push through a House and Senate resolution of disapproval within a required 30-day review period represents a victory for the White House, which acquiesced to congressional pressure and agreed to divide the proposed Saudi sale into two packages. It also reflected successful White House bargaining with congressional supporters of Israel, who feared the Saudi arms might eventually be turned against that country.

Several legislators, including Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), abandoned their efforts to stop the Saudi deal after the administration agreed to support provisions in a new foreign aid bill allowing up to $1 billion in extra military aid to Israel, according to officials and legislators.

But the massive new flow of U.S. aircraft, tanks, missiles, helicopters and armored vehicles to the region has prompted calls for U.S. leadership in controlling the proliferation of conventional arms there. So far, the Bush administration seems little interested in playing such a role.

"We'll have been grossly derelict in our duty if we fail to consider the overriding . . . concerns and opportunity for regional arms control . . . as the only sensible end game of the current crisis," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

He and others say there is an unheeded lesson of the current Middle East crisis: U.S. TOW antitank and Hawk antiaircraft missiles, which had been sold to Kuwait, were captured by Iraq. If other regimes are toppled, they said, additional U.S. arms could fall into the hands of hostile forces.

"The gulf crisis has made development of a comprehensive arms control regime essential, not only because our erstwhile allies who receive our assistance can become our deadly enemies overnight, but also because the industrial nations must . . . prevent Iraq from obtaining nuclear weapons or maintaining its advanced conventional arms," said Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).

Although Secretary of State James A. Baker III has said that the United States favors establishment of a regional "security arrangement" aimed at constraining Saddam's future acquisition or use of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, no administration official has endorsed the idea of limiting future sales of conventional weaponry in the region.

"The fundamental reality is that there is a basic imbalance in population and resources between the Arab Peninsula countries, in which we have vital interests, and {Iraq and Iran} . . . their two, larger, stronger, and frequently more hostile neighbors to the north," Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said in recent congressional testimony.

U.S. officials have indicated that U.S. arms sales to members of the Gulf Cooperation Council -- which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar -- will continue until this regional military imbalance is eliminated. Kuwait, now under Iraqi control, is also a member of the council.

In addition to the Saudi purchase of 10,000 tactical vehicles, 1,750 antitank missiles, 617 armored vehicles, 20 helicopters, and seven air-defense units approved last week, the administration is considering a new Saudi package that will include F-15F air defense fighters and additional tanks, the officials said.

Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, said he and Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) obtained 90 cosponsors for a House resolution blocking the Saudi purchase of weapons worth $4.4 billion, but that wider support was lacking because of concerns that passage of the measure would "leave the impression of disunity" over the deployment of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain will receive 27 U.S. tanks and associated weaponry worth $37 million in the arms package approved last week, plus eight Apache helicopters and 400 Hellfire antiarmor missiles in a package worth roughly $200 million that is to be submitted for congressional approval in January. Bahrain also may be allowed to purchase U.S. Multiple Launch Rocket Systems next year, according to testimony earlier this month by Undersecretary of State Reginald Bartholomew.

The United Arab Emirates is to receive 20 Apache helicopters and 600 Hellfire missiles at a cost of more than $400 million next year in an arms package disclosed to key legislators last week. Egypt is to get tank recovery vehicles and ammunition worth more than $300 million, and Turkey -- a key U.S. ally on the periphery of the Middle East -- is to get Harpoon antiship missiles worth $62 million.

Israel, meanwhile, will immediately receive two Patriot air defense units worth more than $100 million directly from U.S. military stocks. Baker told Congress two weeks ago that Israel would also receive 15 F-15 fighter aircraft, 10 CH-53 Sea Stallion cargo helicopters and $100 million worth of munitions under an accelerated delivery schedule.

Provisions inserted in the foreign operations bill by legislators sympathetic to Israel authorize that nation to receive another $700 million worth of weapons from U.S. stocks over the next nine months and allow it to spend up to $200 million in U.S. economic aid on military equipment. Several sources said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major pro-Israeli lobbying group, withdrew its opposition to the Saudi deal once the administration agreed not to oppose these provisions.

Without offering detailed information, Wolfowitz indicated that the administration is also prepared to sell top-line M-1A2 tanks to countries besides Saudi Arabia.