By Nora Barrows-Friedman, t r u t h o u t
Israel has recently sealed a deal to purchase 20 brand-new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets made by US defense and aerospace corporation Lockheed Martin in a contract that, at $2.75 billion, is one of the largest arms purchases ever made by the state. The entire contract is paid for by an ongoing US military aid package under the auspices of the US governmentâ€™s Foreign Military Sales program.
Israel had originally attempted to purchase 75 jets, a plan that was discussed in meetings between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani, US Pentagon officials and Lockheed Martin representatives in September 2008.
According to an August 16 report in Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, the deal stalled when the Israeli Air Force (IAF) demanded that Israeli-made systems be installed â€œfor specialties such as electronic warfare and communications.â€ The IAF also wanted to modify the jetâ€™s capacity to carry Israeli-made missiles. Lockheed declined, saying that the deal was a â€œclosed package.â€
â€œThey agreed that Israel would begin by buying a first squadron of 20 F-35 jets from the first production series,â€ reported Haaretz. â€œ[Lockheed] would only install a few Israel-made systems. The Americans, meanwhile, have agreed that if Israel buys more F-35 squadrons from later production series, the installation of more Israeli-made systems will be allowed.â€
â€œTo sweeten terms of the deal,â€ Haaretz continued, â€œLockheed Martin agreed to buy more component parts for the [Joint Strike Fighter jets] from Israeli firms; at a price of around $4 billion.â€
Israeli Defense Ministry Director-General Shani said, â€œapart from the jetâ€™s operational capacity, a significant factor in closing the deal included previous agreements on integrating Israeli defense contractors in producing the jet for other clients,â€ reported Haaretz.
The first fleet of jets – valued at over $96 million each – are expected to arrive in Israel in 2015.
Preceding the October 7 signing of the Lockheed contract, Michael Oren, Israelâ€™s ambassador to the United States, told The Washington Post on October 6 that â€œincentivesâ€ were offered to Israel to extend its so-called moratorium on the illegal settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem to keep the Palestinian Authority in direct talks. Oren told the Post that the Obama administration had come up with â€œa number of suggestions, incentives if you would, to the Israelis that would enable the government to maybe pass a limited extension of two or three months.â€
It was unclear whether the Lockheed contract was specifically offered as one of the incentives, but Oren added that the purchase agreement was â€œan event of great strategic and historic significance,â€ and that it would â€œserve the common interestsâ€ of the US and Israel.
Oren said that the purchase of US arms and military technologies create â€œthousands of more jobs, both [in the US] and Israel.â€
In late July 2010, the US House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Defense increased funding for Israeli missile defense programs to its highest level ever – approving $422.7 million for next yearâ€™s budget – and adding $95.7 million to the original White House funding request for the long-range Arrow interceptor project and the medium-range Davidâ€™s Sling, according to sources quoted by the Jerusalem Post. â€œThe lionâ€™s share – $108.8m. – will go to the Arrow 3 system, which the US signed off on after some initial hesitation,â€ the Jerusalem Post reported. The funding also includes $205 million for the short-range missile interceptor program (dubbed â€œThe Iron Domeâ€) initially approved by President Barack Obama last Spring.
This defense spending package is more than double that of last yearâ€™s. Since 2006, US taxpayers have funded approximately $1 billion in joint US-Israel missile defense programs such as the Arrow 3 and Iron Dome projects. The Arrow project, for example, is jointly produced by the USâ€™s Boeing corporation and Israel Aerospace Industries.
Last year, as Truthout reported, President Obama signed over $2.775 billion to Israel, the first installment of a ten-year, $30 billion agreement for an expanded military aid package to the Israeli government. â€œThe package is earmarked completely for Israelâ€™s military budget instead of the prior allocation to both civilian and military infrastructure,â€ reported Truthout. â€œThis massive military package is over and above the annual $3.1 billion in loan guarantees to Israel that the Obama administration plans to continue … As a part of the ten-year agreement, Israel is required to contract 75 percent of the package toward the purchase of American-made military equipment and ammunition, intended to further subsidize US weapons manufacturers.â€
Additionally, in December 2009, the Obama administration doubled a Bush-era arms contract with Israel to store $800 million worth of military equipment, technology and ordnance inside the state. Included in this program is the caveat that the United States could have immediate access to the weapons cache in the event of a military â€œemergency,â€ though the definition and parameters of such an emergency were unclear.
Dr. Francis Boyle, professor of international law and the author of the forthcoming book, â€œThe Palestinian Right of Return Under International Law,â€ told Truthout that itâ€™s not surprising that these weapons contracts are being signed during the tenuous, but continuing US-brokered direct talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. â€œThe talks are not going anywhere,â€ Boyle told Truthout. â€œand these incentives are sweeteners to get [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to go along with the talks. The Americans are allowing Israel to gobble up the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Itâ€™s a public relations exercise, a dog and pony show. The main act is going on somewhere else.â€
â€œIsrael is buying their weapons from us,â€ Boyle continued. â€œAnd the people who gain are the US weapons contractors. The Israelis get the weapons, but all the profits go to our war contractors. Everyoneâ€™s making money, and the American people are getting ripped off. This is nothing new.â€
Boyle said that by amassing weapons and military supremacy in the region, Israel is actively â€œpreservingâ€ an option to attack neighboring countries.
â€œTheyâ€™re moving large amounts of weapons into the region, and itâ€™s a very dangerous thing,â€ Boyle said. â€œBut itâ€™s not only the US that is doing this. The French and the British are also moving weapons into the region to be used if they decide to use them.â€
The US-Israeli F-35 fighter jet deal came on the heels of Washingtonâ€™s announcement in September that it plans to sell $60 billion worth of weapons and military equipment – including 84 F-15 fighter jets – to the government of Saudi Arabia, making it the largest arms deal in history.
An unnamed senior US official was quoted in The New York Times as saying that the enormous weapons deal could be described as a counterthreat toward Iran: â€œWe want Iran to understand that its nuclear program is not getting them leverage over their neighbors, that they are not getting an advantage,â€ the official claimed. â€œWe want the Iranians to know that every time they think they will gain, they will actually lose.â€ The sale, according to this official, is â€œmainly intended as a building block for Middle East regional defenses to box in Iran.â€
Along with the fleet of F-15 fighter jets, the Saudi-US deal includes 70 Apache attack helicopters, 72 Black Hawk troop-transport helicopters and 36 â€œLittle Birdâ€ surveillance helicopters and the possibility of ships and antimissile defenses if the deal goes forward. Congress is set to approve the plan in a vote this month.
Stephen Walt, writing in Foreign Policy magazine on September 21 , commented on the supposed Iranian â€œthreat,â€ saying â€œit seems like an awful lot of weaponry to â€˜containâ€™ a country whose entire defense budget, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is only $10 billion.â€