Arms dealers see Middle East uprisings as a money spinner

How many Western governments are offering financial incentives for these leeches to sell death? Most of them:

As Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi ordered attacks on his own people this week, thousands of arms sellers from the United States and other countries hawked their aircraft, riot gear and rifles to Middle Eastern buyers at the Persian Gulf’s preeminent arms show.

The decisions by Britain and France to suspend weapons sales to Libya and Bahrain, where security forces also fired live ammunition at protesters, did little to dampen the fervor of the vendors packing the sprawling Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center for the biannual convention, known as IDEX.

The business-as-usual, big-ticket fighter jets and armored vehicles on display drew plenty of attention. But interest also appeared to be up this year in less dazzling “non-lethal armaments” of the kind put to overwhelming use recently in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.

A sales representative for a Beijing-based maker of anti-riot gear noted that all her wares were attracting more attention – especially a fire-resistant police uniform.

Condor, a Brazilian company, displayed tear-gas grenades alongside rubber-coated bullets but was gun-shy about speaking to the media. “I can talk to you about soccer, Rio De Janeiro or carnival,” a company executive said apologetically. “But not this.”

Amid all the change sweeping the region, the multibillion-dollar business of arms sales to the Middle East may remain the one constant. The rich Persian Gulf states – particularly the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – are scooping up as much weaponry as they can. Some of it could, in theory, be turned on their own populations. But diplomats and defense industry representatives say the goal is to defend against Iran and to secure energy infrastructure that has become even more valuable with oil at $113 a barrel.

The potential profit is enormous: The UAE alone is planning to spend $6 billion on defense over the next eight years. The United States sells more than a third of its arms to the Middle East, and increasing numbers of manufacturers want a piece of the sales: This year’s arms show is 30 percent larger than the previous one.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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