Eurofighters for Saudis? Only with Eurofavours
The Guardian reports that Britain has been in secret discussions with Saudi Arabia over a major arms deal that includes the Eurofighter Typhoon, and is said to be worth up to GBP 40 billion (USD $71 billion, EUR 59 billion). Talks are said to be stalling, however, after Riyadh asked for three “tricky” favors.
The newspaper said Britain’s defense minister sought to persuade Prince Sultan, the crown prince, to re-equip his air force with the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Royal Saudi Air Force currently operates three major fighter types: the Boeing F-15C/D/S Eagle, the Tornado F3 air defense variant, and the F/RF-5 Tiger II. The move would lessen the RSAF’s dependence on American F-15s in light of increasingly strained relations with both sides of America’s political spectrum, and probably replace the F-5s entirely.
Yet negotiations are said to be stalling because the Saudis are demanding three favors:
# That Britain expel Saad al-Faqih and Mohammed al-Masari, two Saudi dissidents. Britain has become something of a hotbed for Islamist activity in Europe; Faqih, who has asylum in Britain, is accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate King Abdullah and has publicly supported terrorist activity. Masari apparently fled Saudi Arabia in 1994 for Britain, and claims to be only a peaceful dissident.
# That British Airways resume flights to Riyadh, which have been dropped because of fears of attacks by Wahabbi terrorists. British Airways had hoped the measure would be temporary, but a dearth of willing passengers means there are no plans to resume soon.
# Finally Saudi Arabia asked that a corruption investigation implicating the Saudi ruling family and BAE should be dropped. Crown Prince Sultan’s son-in-law, Prince Turki bin Nasr, seems to be at the center of a “slush fund” probe by the Serious Fraud Office. Last month it made a fresh round of arrests for questioning.
The Guardian reports confirmation from the British Ministry of Defence that it was providing Saudi Arabia with information on the Typhoon. Neither Blair’s offices in Downing Street nor the Ministry of Defense would comment on The Guardian’s overall report.