The sale of $30bn worth of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia has been finalised, the Obama administration has announced, in a move that boosts the military strength of a key US ally in the Middle East.
Under the agreement, the US will send Saudi Arabia 84 new F-15SA fighter jets and upgrades for 70 more. Production of the aircrafts, which will be manufactured by Boeing, will support 50,000 jobs and have a $3.5bn annual economic impact in the US, the White House said.
The sale is part of a larger US effort to realign its defence policies in the Persian Gulf to keep Iran in check. The announcement came as US officials considered a fresh threat from Tehran. Tehran warned this week it could disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Gulf oil transport route, if Washington levies new sanctions targeting Iran's crude exports.
The announcement came as the New York Times reported that the US was pressing ahead with $11bn of arms sales and training to Iraq, despite concerns that the sectarian divide between the Sunni and Shia populations is growing, driven by the Shi'ite-dominated government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The sale is part of a larger 10-year, $60bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia that also includes helicopters, a broad array of missiles, bombs and delivery systems, as well as radar warning systems and night-vision goggles. Congress gave the deal the go-ahead about a year ago.
Concerns were raised from pro-Israeli lawmakers about the plan, but US officials reassured Congress that Israel's military edge would not be undercut by the sale. Additionally, there is now broad agreement among Israel, Arab states in the Gulf, and the west, that Iran poses a significant and unpredictable threat.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter regional rivals. Tensions between them were further stoked earlier this year after America accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US in Washington earlier this year.
Saudi Arabia is already the most militarily advanced of the Arab Gulf states, one of the richest countries in the world, and central to American policy in the Middle East. It is also vital to US energy security, with Saudi Arabia ranking as the third-largest source of US oil imports.
The White House announced the agreement with Saudi Arabia from Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is on vacation.