Ronald Reagan Arms Saudi Arabia

October 1, 1981

President Ronald Reagan announces a plan to sell planes to Saudi Arabia. The planned sale included both F-15 fighters and AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System). AWACS were air platforms capable of directly tracking multiple aircraft from a great distance simultaneously.

Israel was adamantly opposed to the sale. President Reagan held a press conference in which his statements of support of AWACS were seen as a direct challenge to the Israel lobby. ‘While we must always take into account the vital interests of our allies,’ Reagan said, ‘American security interests must remain our internal responsibility.’ Then, in what was obviously a reference to Israel, he added: ‘it is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy… I suppose what really is the most serious thing is a perception that other countries must not get a perception that we are being unduly influenced one way or the other with regard to foreign policy.’ He also tried to reassure Israel’s supporters that the sale posed no threat to Israel, contradicting the statements of Israel’s Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and military experts.

Reagan also responded to critics’ fears that AWACS technology would fall into the hands of America’s enemies as it had in Iran, asserting that Saudi Arabia would not be permitted to be an Iran. “According to a Harris poll at the time. 59 percent [of the American general population] opposed the sale, 28 percent favored it, and 13 percent were undecided. The AWACS were sold to the Saudis with the first ones delivered in 1985.

President Reagan’s complete press conference from October 1, 1981