The Israeli government is being pressed by its defense establishment to accept a U.S. offer of 20 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in return for a renewal of the moratorium on West Bank settlement-building.
Eager to resume the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Washington is offering the F-35s, valued at $3 billion, if Israel halts the construction that Palestinians cite as a barrier to negotiations. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirms the offer was made while the U.S. State Department refused to comment on the said offer. Barak said “In the past, we wanted to procure 40 F-35s but due to budget constraints we could only afford 20.” He adds “Now the U.S. is offering to give us the additional 20 in exchange for a 90-day freeze on settlements.”
The U.S. also pledges to provide Israel with more technology and capability to counter the threat from Iran, veto any anti-Israeli resolution in the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency and sign a defense treaty with Israel if a peace accord with the Palestinians can be achieved.
According to Israeli defense sources, the offer was initially presented in September, as a 10-month moratorium on settlements was about to expire, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected it. The offer was renewed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a 7-hour meeting with Netanyahu in New York on Nov. 11. It is assumed that Clinton demanded, in addition to the moratorium, that Israel accept the U.S. guidelines for the negotiations with the Palestinians and remove some objections that have stalled the peace process so far.
This time, Netanyahu asked to receive the U.S. proposal in a presidential letter, which he will put before his cabinet, a move that stirred vocal opposition from his own party and other coalition partners. Barak comments that “Twenty fighters are much more important in the long term than the current political friction between Netanyahu and his party members.”
Without commenting directly on the U.S. offer, Israel air force commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nachoshtan notes that “the F-35s will provide us a significant strategic capability. They have a key role in the building of Israel’s air force in the face of a developing arena.”
Israel signed a $2.75-billion contract in October to buy a first squadron of 20 F-35As, to be financed through U.S. foreign military aid funds and delivered in 2015-17. The 20 aircraft the U.S. are offering now would not be delivered until the end of the decade. Late last week, Israel had not yet received the U.S. letter of commitment.