Norman Bailey’s nuanced reading of the state of negotiations and his reference to French opposition to a deal in 2013 are highly pertinent. France’s standing in the Middle East rose considerably with the sale of 12 Rafale fighters to Egypt. Given that Saudi Arabia ultimately will fund the purchase, one might speculate that France will be more attuned to Saudi interests–and no-one has more to lose from a US “strategic partnership” with Iran than Saudi Arabia. The Rafale sale is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it is the first foreign sale of France’s fourth-generation fighter, which has suffered from competition with the Typhoon Eurofighter (of which KSA has bought hundreds). It costs as much as the Eurofighter (slightly over $100 million flyaway price), and although the French insist that it is a competitive product, it has found no foreign buyers (India’s mooted purchase of the Rafale has been stalled by practical problems of co-production, on which the Indians insist). Second, the Egyptians struck the deal with the French right after Russian President visited Egypt, and pitched the Russian SU-35 air superiority fighter, which costs a third as much as Rafale. Friends in France allow that the Saudis might have felt more comfortable paying for French fighters than Russian fighters (insisting, of course, that the Rafale has better reliability, lower maintenance costs and better fuel economy).
Contrary to some blog chatter, the Egyptians need planes with better ground attack capacity than the stripped-down F-16’s they presently fly. They also need to diversify away from the United States, which cold-shouldered President al-Sisi despite the massive popular support that attended his overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime. And they also can use friends in Europe. So can the Saudis.