U.S.-Israel Defense Relations on Mend But New American Veto Policy Crimps Israeli Arms Sales

Gulf Arab States Lessen Hostility After Gaza Withdrawal While Iran Grows More Aggressive

Jonathan Howland - JINSA Online - November 10, 2005

Triggered by the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel is enjoying improved relations with several Arab countries while mending fences with the United States after a diplomatic row over Pentagon suspicions that Jerusalem was planning to upgrade anti-radar aerial drones it had sold to China some years ago. “I’m convinced that the Americans, at the conclusion of their investigation, understood that what I’ve been saying is correct. Perhaps it’s not so comfortable for them to admit ... it was all a matter of misunderstanding,” outgoing Israeli Ministry of Defense Director-General Amos Yaron explained, according to Defense News, September 12, 2005.

The drone, known as the Harpy, is designed to autonomously detect and attack radar installations. While Pentagon officials accepted that the Harpy was already a part of the Chinese order of battle, a line was drawn over upgrades to the system. Departing U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer said, “We sensed that there was not enough understanding in Israel of the strategic threat that China poses to American interests in the Pacific,” according to the Associated Press, September 9, 2005.

China Dispute Muddied Relationship

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel were further damaged when Department of Defense analyst Lawrence Franklin pled guilty for conspiring to “communicate national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it”, reportedly an Israel official, among several other similar charges.

Although the United States and Israel are close allies, Israeli officials have expressed frustration at the American insistence that to resolve the arms sales crisis means Jerusalem must accept a de facto “American veto” over arms sales even those involving systems free of American-derived technology. Murad Bayar, head of Turkey’s under secretariat for Defense Industries, expressed concern that recent events between Jerusalem and Washington would impact the increasing defense trade between Israel and Turkey. “We know that this agreement does not target Turkey, but we are concerned over the fallout - our deals with Israel may be affected,” Bayar was quoted by Defense News, September 12, 2005.

America’s New “Veto” Over Israel’s Sales

Bayar’s concerns may not be too far off target. In late October, Israeli defense officials disclosed a request from the U.S. State Department asking that Israel not only terminate all existing military contracts with Venezuela that involve U.S.-derived technology, but also terminate all current and prospective deals involving completely indigenous technologies previously exempt from U.S. export licensing review. Although a senior Israeli Ministry of Defense official said the request at this point was just a “request, not a demand,” the U.S. State Department has already frustrated a deal for Israel to service and upgrade Venezuela’s U.S.-built F-16 fighter jets by refusing to grant export licensing approval to Jerusalem. The United States has taken a tough stance against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his increasingly close relations with China, Russia, and Cuba and his support for several guerilla organizations threatening to destabilize Latin America.

In response to Washington’s concern over Israel’s military sales to Beijing, the Israel government has drafted several wide-ranging arms export control initiatives. In addition, it has been widely reported that the sudden retirement of Israeli Ministry of Defense director-general Amos Yaron after six years of service came as a result of the Pentagon’s refusal to work with him owing to bad blood over the Harpy deal.

In an attempt to further allay the tensions between Israel and the United States, a joint memorandum of understanding was signed by the two countries on August 16 that is designed to restore confidence in the strained relationship and guide future Israeli weapons sales abroad. While details of the memorandum remain classified, officials familiar with the case have reported to the media that it provides a basic outline between the two countries that helps ensure that U.S. technology shared with Israel will not be transferred to nations considered to be hostile or potentially hostile to the U.S.

JSF Cooperation Imperiled

But the damage is done. Anger in Washington resulted in the suspension of cooperation on several long-range military development projects. Of immediate concern is Israel’s participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The F-35 will eventually replace the U.S. Air Forces’ F-16 and the Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 fleets. Industry experts say that the ongoing restriction on the transfer of technology between Israel and the United States has resulted in significant delays regarding the preparatory work necessary to ensure Israeli-developed electronic warfare gear and other systems can be installed in the Israeli version of the F-35, according to Defense News, October 24, 2005.

If Jerusalem is not readmitted to the JSF program soon, Israeli defense firms will miss the opportunity to make essential design contributions before the critical design review scheduled for February 2006. “We all hope [Israeli Defense Minister] Mofaz and [U.S. Secretary of Defense] Rumsfeld can work things out before the window of opportunity [to influence the JSF design] closes,” a senior Israeli military planning official was quoted as saying in the Defense News article. “If our program representatives resume work tomorrow, we’re still looking at a two-year, maybe three-year delay.”

Other Israeli defense officials say that should Israel lose out on the Joint Strike Fighter program, the Israel Defense Force/Air Force will be forced to realign its entire future air combat investment strategy. Alternative plans have varied from embracing the Eurofighter Typhoon to purchasing additional American F-15Is to act as ‘gap filler’ until the next advanced aircraft is available, or skipping the next generation of manned aircraft entirely and leaping directly into unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs).

But while international relations between the United States and Israel will take months to fully recover, Middle East states are beginning to increase diplomatic ties with Jerusalem.

Gulf Arab States Begin to Open Up

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, announced plans to drop a ban on Israeli imports, satisfying a stipulation in a new free trade agreement between the U.S. and Manama and has hinted at normalizing relations with Jerusalem, despite loud objections within the Bahraini parliament. Kuwait is following suit, according to press reports, although both Arab states remain sensitive to the “no recognition” stance of the Arab League. “Diplomatic relations with Israel depend on the general consensus of the Arab League and Bahrain does not intend to divert from agreed principles,” Al Khalifa said, according to Bahrain-based Khaleej Times, September 23, 2005.

Nonetheless, a meeting between the Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani took place on the sidelines of a recent UN summit in what is being described as a first step in arranging an official meeting between the two countries. In October, Qatar gave Israel $10 million to build a new sports complex in the northern Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin for Bnei Sakhnin, the only professional soccer club in the Israeli Premier League with Arab players, according to Reuters, October 11, 2005. Israel then supported Qatar’s successful bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations’ Security Council. Sharon has already met with his counterparts from Indonesia and referred to his September meeting with Pakistan’s foreign minister as a “huge breakthrough” in relations between Jerusalem and Islamabad.

Congruently, relations with Turkey are on an upswing. This month, Turkey’s Zorlu Energy Group signed a $360 million dollar agreement with Israel’s Solbar Industries to build a power station in southern Israel. Tourism and non-military trade between Turkey and Israel continues to increase. Forecasters are anticipating a $500 million increase in trade from last years $2 billion and some 400,000 Israeli tourists traveled to Turkey in 2005. Israel’s National Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel’s goal is to “try and deepen and strengthen relations between Turkey and Israel” in hopes of having Turkey continue to act as “a bridge - especially with the Islamic and Arab countries,” according to the Associated Press, October 11, 2005.

At an extraordinary meeting between Jewish religious leaders and a Muslim head of state in Washington D.C. this past September, Jordan’s King Abdullah II called on Jews and Muslims to “take bold steps toward mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.” King Abdullah has publicly advocated moderation and modernization of the Arab world and has publicly spoken out against extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam. During his speech in D.C., Abdullah conceded that the “relationship between Jews and Muslims has been very difficult in recent years,” adding that prior to that, there had been a thousand years of shared values, culture, history, and faith, according to the Boston Globe, September 22, 2005. Last July, Abdullah hosted a meeting in Amman with 180 Muslim religious leaders who collectively denounced as illegitimate the issuance of fatwas by unqualified preachers operating outside recognized methods of Islamic jurisprudence. “Muslims from every branch of Islam can now assert without doubt or hesitation that a fatwa calling for the killing of innocent civilians - no matter what nationality or religion, Muslim or Jew, Arab or Israeli - is a violation of the most fundamental principles of Islam,” King Abdullah told the audience. In the last two decades, self-appointed religious leaders including Osama bin Laden; have called for acts of extremism under the guise of such religious fatwas.

Iran’s Public Call for War on Israel Draws Rebuke

Meanwhile, the newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appealed on several separate occasions to all Muslims to “wipe Israel off the map.” One of these exhortations was made to an audience of some 4,000 students gathered for a conference entitled “The World Without Zionism,” according to Stratfor, an online private intelligence firm, October 26, 2005. “There is no doubt that the new wave in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot from the face of the Islamic world,” Iranian state-run television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. The Iranian president went on to say that anyone who recognizes Israel “will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury,” and any Muslim leader who recognized the state of Israel “means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world ... and God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism.”

Israel reacted immediately by calling for the removal of Iran from the United Nations. “That a country which called for the destruction of another cannot be a member of the UN,” Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon was quoted as saying by CNN, October 27, 2005. Members of the European community have criticized the comments as “disturbing” and “sickening” and several countries have summoned resident Iranian ambassadors to voice their opposition to the remarks. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Ahmadinejad’s comments “underscores our concern and the international community’s concerns about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons,” according to the CNN report.

Iran has become the preeminent threat to the State of Israel and intelligence analysts there are convince that “Iran will certainly achieve production of nuclear weapons” even if the United Nations Security Council were to levy sanctions against Tehran, according to IDF military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash as quoted on October 11, 2005 by Geostrategy-Direct, an e-mail newsletter covering strategic and geopolitical subjects. According to the newsletter, a July military assessment concluded that Iran would complete its nuclear fuel cycle by 2008 and reach the point where international assistance would no longer be required sometime in 2006.

In addition, security officials in Jerusalem are warning that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza has left a vacuum increasingly filled by foreign Islamic radicals - including al Qaeda - who are helping to improve the lethality of indigenous bomb-making capabilities. The Middle East Newsline quoted one Israeli intelligence official as saying, “many of these operatives had been waiting for weeks in [the nearby Egyptian towns of] El Arish and Rafah for the withdrawal,” in the September 22, 2005 edition. “The minute we left they began entering the Gaza Strip.”

IDF to Embrace “Jointness”

But while the threat to Israel remain relatively static in nature, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) procurement has begun a dramatic shift from traditional precision-strike weapons and weapon platforms to an emphasis on advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities along with the computer-based command and control technology that compiles incoming information and closes the sensor-to-shooter loop. More importantly, the compilation and processing of information and intelligence into a single C4ISR system is integrating all three branches of the IDF into a single overarching command and control network, according to Defense News, September 12, 2005. “We are embarking on a major change of our concept, maybe the biggest change we ever had since the early days of the IDF ... I’m talking about jointness,” Maj. Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal, Commander of Israel’s Ground Force’s, told Defense News. “We now understand there won’t be any more borders between services ... we’re moving toward simultaneous warfare, where we use all kinds of dimensions at the same time ... from the air, from the ground, from the sea, from the depth.”

By JINSA Editorial Assistant Jonathan Howland.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page