Ehud Barak Emil Salman 17.1.2011
Defense Minister Ehud Barak Photo by Emil Salman
Text size

Israel may request an additional $20 billion in military aid from the United States to help it contend with potential threats in light of the recent unrest in the Arab world, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told The Wall Street Journal in an article published yesterday.

"The issue of qualitative military edge for Israel becomes more essential for us, and I believe also more essential for you," Barak told the paper. "It might be wise to invest another $20 billion to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation or so. ... A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in such a turbulent region."

Barak said Israel faces no imminent threat but will have to increase its long-term defense spending - beyond the current $17 billion a year, of which U.S. military assistance accounts for $3 billion, the Journal reported. It said Barak raised Israel's concerns with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Washington in February and is due to meet him again in Israel later this month.

Barak was quoted as saying that Israel could not seek pledges of additional security assistance without making a "daring" peace offer.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Barak said Israel's position as an "island" of democratic stability in the Middle East needs to be bolstered.

"All over the world, many identify Israel as the sole democracy in the region, an island of stability, but it's clear that we also need to upgrade our security for the next generation," he said.

Barak told the radio station that peace initiatives were necessary and warned that the upheaval in the Arab world and the Palestinians' plan to declare an independent state in the fall could be expected to lead to "a continuation of the slippery slope that almost inevitably leads to Israel's isolation."

Barak's comments, which did not include details about which weapons systems Israel is seeking from the United States, appear to be an extended discussion of November's proposal by the Obama administration, which offered Israel a goodwill package in exchange for an extension of the settlement construction freeze.

At the time, Jerusalem and Washington did not reach an agreement on the matter, which involved a reported American plan to supply a second fleet of F-35 fighter planes, worth an estimated $3 billion. (The United States has already agreed to supply Israel with one fleet, to be paid for with current U.S. military aid. )

In addition to fighter planes, Israel also appears to be seeking a wide variety of various weapons systems, some of which the army had been considering acquiring as part of its plan for 2012-2016.

This is not the first time Barak has sought security assistance from Washington.

In December 1999, ahead of the Shepherdstown talks about a possible peace deal with Syria (which ultimately fell through ), Barak, then prime minister, asked the Clinton administration for a defense package worth an estimated $17 billion. The money was to help fund Israel's costs of withdrawing from the Golan Heights as part of the potential peace deal, as well as the establishment of warning stations and up-to-date weapons systems. The funding issue was taken off the table when the Israeli-Syrian talks halted.

But while Israel previously considered increased U.S. security assistance as compensation for a withdrawal that could increase Israel's security threat, this time Barak is talking about amorphous peace efforts that are not necessarily linked to a peace treaty and is emphasizing the dangers of the new regional situation in the wake of the anti-government protests in Arab countries.

The chances that the Obama administration will agree to the full aid package appear slim, both because of the administration's lack of confidence in the Netanyahu government and because of the United States' economic troubles.

IDF purchasing plan

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is scheduled to convene the General Staff in the next few weeks to finalize the Israel Defense Forces purchasing program for 2012-2016.

The army and the cabinet will have to decide shortly whether to purchase a sixth Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarine from Germany, according to Reuters, as well as which anti-tank weapons systems to purchase for the ground forces. The navy is also considering purchasing two Sa'ar 5 missile ships.

The purchase of a fleet of F-35 fighter planes from the United States has been delayed, and the first planes will arrive in Israel in late 2015 or early 2016, more than a year later than planned.