Israel is asking the United States for $8bn (£5bn) in loan guarantees - and has sent to Washington one of the former army officers implicated in the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacre of Palestinian civilians to persuade the Bush administration to grant the money.
Amos Yaron, who is now director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, was the Israeli military commander in Beirut when Lebanese Phalangist militiamen entered the refugee camps and slaughtered up to 1,700 Palestinian refugees. He ordered flares to be dropped over the camps, at the request of the Phalange, and Israeli soldiers blocked the exits to prevent civilians from leaving the area. Israel is pleading for the money - along with an additional $4bn in military aid - on the grounds that a US invasion of Iraq will provoke further attacks against Israel.
It argues that some of the aid should be given to anti-missile defence systems for El Al airliners. Al-Qa’ida members tried to destroy an Israeli civilian aircraft with missiles at Mombasa last year, but narrowly missed it.
The Israeli delegation to Washington is led by Dov Weissglass, from the private office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, who was found “personally responsible” for the Sabra and Chatila massacre by the Israeli Kahan commission of inquiry in 1983. Mr Yaron was appointed to the post of Defence Ministry director by the former prime minister, Ehud Barak. The two men are accompanied to Washington by the Israeli Ministry of Finance accountant general, Nir Gilad. The Israeli team is negotiating the new loan with Condoleezza Rice’s National Security Council but little has emerged about their visit in the American press.
The US response is likely to be made public within a month - before the expected invasion of Iraq. The State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, has refused to talk about the negotiations, save for a passing remark that “we always try to help our friends and allies to the best of our ability”.
The Bush administration has never referred to the Sabra and Chatila massacre, nor to Mr Sharon’s role in the killings. The night before he sent the Phalange into the camps to confront “terrorists”, Mr Sharon claimed - wrongly - that Palestinians had murdered Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Germayel, who was also leader of the Phalange militia. Civilians trying to flee the carnage pleaded with Israeli soldiers to allow them to leave the area. On Mr Yaron’s orders, they were sent back into the camps - in many cases to their deaths. The Israeli officers later claimed they didn’t know the Phalange were murdering the Palestinians, even though individual Israeli soldiers had warned their commanders that the militia were killing civilians.
Israeli officials accompanying the delegation said they believed the US would respond favourably to their loan request when their country was facing a global recession as well as “terrorism”.