The proposed sale to Saudi Arabia of five AWACS -- sophisticated communication and radar surveillance airplanes -- has recently been hit with a barrage of criticism.
Israeili Prime Minister Menachem Begin has called the proposed sale a "great danger" to that country's national security. Opponents contend that it would seriously undermine the Middle East balance of power. At best, these arguments miss the mark; at worst they miss the point.
Basing one's arguments upon a hypothetical threat to Israel's security confuses political rhetoric with military reality. Israel is the most powerful country a formidable challenge to any would-be aggressor. And the sale of five unarmed AWACS will not alter the picture.
Israel's armed forces total 169,000 men and women, increasing to 400,000 at 24 hours' notice. By contrast, Saudi Arabia has just 47,000 men in arms, with a severely limited force of reserves.
Israel commands 3,050 medium tanks and nearly 600 combat aircraft, including American-built F-15s, F-16s, F-4s, and French Mirages -- some of the best fighters and bombers built in the world.
Saudi Arabia's arsenal consists of just 100 M-60 tanks and 135 F-5 combat aircraft -- planes with 1950s technology that are no match for any of the sophisticated Israeli aircraft. (The Saudis won't be taking delivery of 62 F-15 s until 1982-83.)
When nuclear weaponry is thrown into the mix, Israeli superiority is even greater. To date, not a single Arab country seems even on the verge of joining the nuclear club. Israel, by contrast, already possesses several deadly nuclear weapons and is working on more.
Clearly, the sale of the five AWACS to Saudi Arabia is not likely to reverse this imbalance of power and give the Saudis an upper hand. What the Saudis will gain by purchasing the AWACS is a more credible defense and the ability to preemt surprise attacks against their vast oil reserves -- one quarter of the world's known deposits. The AWACS will provide Saudi Arabia with an early warning system specifically designed to help protect its resources and perserve the peace.
And that, of course, is the point.
The real danger to peace in the Middle East is, quite simply, the Soviet Union and its unquenched thirst for abundant oil and warm-water port. In Afghanistan, highly mobile Soviet troops occupy most urban areas and are constantly bolstering their offensive capacity. Cuban troops, well-schooled in guerrilla war tactics, have made Ethiopia an isle of unrest. And in the People's Republic of Yemen, a growing Soviet presence is making that once peaceful colony a convenient base for subversion of the peninsula.
Overall, the Soviet Union has embarke d upon a deliberate strategy of encirclement aimed at subverting the Gulf region and the Arabian Peninsula. If Saudi Arabia cannot adequately monitor its own borders and protect its petroleum resources, the lifeline flow of oil to the West will be in mortal danger.
In 1980, the US relied on Saudi Arabia for 25.4 percent of its total crude oil imports, or 1.3 million barrels per day. Saudi Arabia was the source for 58 percent of the oil imports of the United Kingdom, 31.1 percent of West Germany, 36 percent of France, 33.9 percent of Italy and 41.6 percent of Japan.
For the economic, military, and political well-being of the US and the entire West, it's vital that the production of oil from Saudi Arabia is not disrupted in any way. The AWACS planes, in effect, serve as an insurance policy, which will enhance the security and stability of Saudi Arabia, the security and stability of the Middle East region, and the security and stability of the West in general.
The President has committed the US to support the Saudis through the sale of AWACS. American interest are served and lives are saved by the sale, and Congress should avoid undermining the President's policy of peace through strength.