May 21, 2017 / 11:44 AM / 3 months ago

REFILE-Israeli minister expresses concern over U.S.-Saudi arms deal

(Deletes repeated "on Sunday" in first paragraph)

JERUSALEM, May 21 (Reuters) - Israel gave a muted response on Sunday to a major arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia announced a day earlier during the visit to the region by U.S. President Donald Trump.

"This is a matter that really should trouble us," said Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz prior to the weekly cabinet meeting, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of the deal in his customary public remarks.

Netanyahu has voiced his wish to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states as part of an initiative that would draw the Palestinians into an eventual peace deal and as a broad front against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Israel has always been wary of maintaining its military edge and Steinitz said he hoped to hear details of the deal. Trump and his entourage touch down in Israel on Monday.

"We have also to make sure that those hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia will not, by any means, erode Israel's qualitative edge, because Saudi Arabia is still a hostile country without any diplomatic relations and nobody knows what the future will be," he said.

In the 1980s, Israel expressed its concern at a U.S. sale to Saudi Arabia of then-advanced F-15 fighter jets that were stationed at a Red Sea airfield but the desert kingdom has never threatened to use them against Israel. (Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Potter)

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