US may sell up to $600 million to Israeli Air Force, after Israel-US agreement on China

In 2001 alone the US sold 100 F16s to Israel for a total of over $3 billion.

This week, the United States said it may sell up to $600 million in equipment and services to Israel for maintenance of the engines on the Israeli Air Force’s F-15 and F-16 figher planes. The sale would cover support for Pratt and Whitney F-100 engines, spare and repair parts, testing, training, and other services for 10 years, the U.S. Defense Department said in a notice to the American Congress.

In June, high ranking officials from the Israel Ministry of Defense met with employees of Pratt & Whitney’s East Hartford, Connecticut facility to announce that the company’s F100-PW-229 engine had been selected to power the Israel Air Force’s follow-on buy of fighter aircraft.

Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, and Major General (Res.) Amos Yaron, Director General of Israel Ministry of Defense, spoke to a group of several hundred employees to personally inform them of the award decision. The official contract would cover up to 61 engines for delivery in the years 2005-2008.

US arms exports to Israel

The US government has exported a wide range of military equipment to Israel. From 1990 to 2000 U.S. military aid to Israel totaled over $18 billion. No other nation in the world has such a close relationship with the U.S. military and arms industry. In 2001 alone the US sold 100 F16s to Israel for a total of over $3 billion. That same year Israel purchased the newest Apache helicopter version equipped with the Longbow Radar system. Israel has used these helicopters in extra-judicial killings of Palestinians. Israel bought also Cobra attack helicopters and Black Hawk transport helicopters.

In 2003, licence approvals were issued for equipment including fighter aircraft spare parts, armoured personnel carriers, carbines, ammunition of different calibres, grenade launchers, machine guns, helicopter parts, missile spare parts, radio sets, riot control equipment, tank components and spare parts. The US also provides the engines for the Israeli Merkava battle tank, frequently used by the Israeli army during invasions of Palestinian towns and refugee camps. The Merkava was developed by Israel so that it would not have to rely on countries like Britain, France or Russia when it was in the midst of a conflict.

Certain abuses committed by the Israeli army have been condemned by human rights organizations such Amnesty International as war crimes. These included unlawful killings, torture, the use of “human shields”, the obstruction of medical assistance and the targeting of medical workers, and extensive and wanton destruction of property.

Israel-US deal to curb arms sales to China

This deal comes at a time when the US severed relations with Israel on arms due to Israeli arms sales to China. Israel is China’s second largest supplier of arms. A Pentagon report to Congress, entitled “The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” asserted that Israel and Russia were leading suppliers to Beijing’s military.

In a bid to defuse US anger over Israeli sales to China, last month Israel called off an arms deal with Beijing. The United States imposed a series of tough military sanctions in response to Israel’s deal to service “Harpy” drone aircraft parts for China. China sent the parts to state-owned manufacturer Israel Aircraft Industries last year. The US administration contends it was an important upgrade. Israel originally sold China the drones in the 1990s. The US feared an arms buildup by China could threaten Taiwan and US forces in Asia.

In 2000, Washington torpedoed a $2 billion Israeli sale of Phalcon reconnaissance planes to China. The botched deal severed Israeli-Chinese relations that was resolved only after Israel paid hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations. Damage in relations with the United States, Israel’s closest ally, could be even more harmful to Israel.

In response to the Harpy deal, the US halted cooperation on several projects and frozen delivery of sensitive equipment. Washington also froze Israel out of the development of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35, a next-generation warplane being developed with several foreign participants. It was demanding that Israel agree to a host of concessions, including US supervision over some arms sales, as a condition for repairing the relationship. Defense Minister Director-General Amos Yaron is expected to be sacked as part of the deal to resolve the crisis with the US. Last month, the Bush administration and Israel drafted a memorandum of understanding that would outline U.S. supervision over Israeli weapons sales.

Athough the US government postponed working with Israel to develop a Joint Strike Fighter airplane because of concern about Israel’s sales to China, the US has provided Israel with funds to develop new weapons, such as the Arrow anti-missile missile (ongoing project, US$625 million), the Merkava tank (operative, US$200 million), and the high-energy laser anti-missile system (ongoing project, US$130 million).

Israel’s use of US supplied F16s

According to US law, government authorized transfers or sales of controlled defence articles can be used only for internal security or defensive purposes. However, there have been reports that Israel has not respected this condition. According to a US Congressional Research Service report, “[t]here were reports in February 2001 and again in the summer of 2002 that the U.S. government was investigating if Israel misused U.S. military equipment, including Apache helicopters, in assassinating Palestinian leaders, and later reports that Members of Congress inquired if Israel misused Apache and Cobra helicopters and F- 16 fighter-bombers in attacking Palestinian facilities”.

On 18 May 2001, Israel used F16 aircraft for the first time in the Second Intifada. Eight Palestinians were killed as Israeli F16 fighter jets carried out two waves of attacks on Palestinian security and government offices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Nablus, the governor’s office, police headquarters and a prison were hit, causing substantial damage. Israeli F16s and ships also bombed the headquarters of the small Palestinian naval force in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Gaza Strip.

On the night of July 22, 2002, an Israeli F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb in a densely populated area of Gaza City, killing Hamas military wing leader Salah Shehadeh and 16 others, of whom 15 were civilians and 9 were children, including Shehadeh’s wife and child. Over one hundred others were injured in the attack. In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz claimed to be satisfied both “militarily and morally” with the operation. Joe Stork, Washington Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch condemned the attack, saying that the attack was clearly not carried out in a manner that minimized casualties: “It should never have gone ahead. In such a crowded civilian area, these deaths and injuries were absolutely foreseeable.”

On October 10, 2004, as Israeli forces continued a widespread military offensive and air strikes on northern Gaza, an F16 fighter jet fired one missile at the Jabalia refugee camp, destroying two homes, killing two Palestinian civilians and injuring ten others, most of them were children.

In the light of the US-Israel row over exports to China, the US-Israel deal on engines is significant. The Israeli Air Force operates more than 600 Pratt & Whitney military engines. Pratt & Whitney is a world leader in the design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines, space propulsion systems and industrial gas turbines. By law, once notified, Congress has now 30 days to block proposed foreign military sales, but rarely does so.

Arjan El Fassed is one of the founders of The Electronic Intifada

Related Links

  • Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance (PDF) Clyde R. Mark, CRS (June 2002)
  • BY TOPIC: Weapons & Arms Trade