As US and UK warplanes continued to bombard neighbouring Iraq , defence officials and military representatives from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states went shopping. Their marketplace: the 4th International Defence Exhibition and Conference, or IDEX 99, in the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi.

About 850 exhibitors from 41 countries attended the biannual event on 14-18 March, hoping to sell big-ticket defence items to traditionally deep-pocketed GCC states, despite weak oil prices that have slowed sales in the region. High-level defence and procurement officials from around the world showed up to press their countries' interests, signalling the international significance of the Gulf's defence market, said to represent 40% of the world arms market worth about $20 billion a year.

Countries making their debuts as exhibitors this year included Bahrain, Belarus, Kuwait and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Iran, locked in dispute with the UAE over the sovereignty of three Gulf islands, also was on hand to showcase munitions, the Antonov An-140 it will produce under licence from Ukraine, an engine overhauling centre and its Ababil unmanned aerial vehicle.

But the most high-profile deal under way in the region failed to be completed. UAE officials reiterated their commitment to buying 80 advanced Lockheed Martin Block 60 F-16s. The low profile of the US manufacturer at the show and slow progress of negotiations put a question mark on the deal's future.

The announcement on 13 March of a $3.2 billion US arms sale to Egypt covering F-16s, Patriot missiles and main battle tanks stole the wind from the sails of small deals worth $175 million. Offering arms is part of the US strategy to keep local allies in line with Washington's Iraq policy. Accordingly, the USA has recently offered Bahrain the Raytheon AMRAAM missile - only the second Arab country to be offered the weapon after the UAE - and held talks with King Abdallah II over modernisation of Jordan's forces and increasing military aid.

Source: Flight International