Israel, U.S. Draft Agreement for Openness, Equality in Arms Deals

Memorandum to end crisis over Israeli sales to China, open up U.S. market to Israeli defense industries.

The agreement regulating the reporting of weapons sales that Israel will have to sign with the United States will be worded in an equable manner, sources familiar with the draft have reported.

The memorandum, which is to put an end an export crisis with the U.S., will state that the U.S. and Israel are "strategic partners" and that each country will be considerate of the other's concerns about military technology being transferred to other countries. The countries "arousing concern" will be specified separately.

The dispute erupted at the end of last year following Washington's demand that Israel not return to China spare parts of Harpy UAVs (drones). The Israeli-manufactured UAVs had been sold to China and were sent here for repairs. This conflict is one of the gravest ever to erupt between the two countries in recent years.

Under the agreement, to be termed "Declaration of Understanding on Technology Exports," both countries will undertake to maintain transparency regarding weapons sales to countries considered worrisome. The U.S. will explicitly pledge not to ban defense deals on commercial grounds, thereby allaying Israeli defense establishment concerns that the Americans would try to hurt Israeli defense businesses and push them out of the international market.

According to Israel's ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, the new agreement "will upgrade Israel's standing and its relations with the U.S. to a status similar to that of countries like Britain and Norway, and will also help prevent misunderstandings in the future."

The U.S. has signed similar agreements with 33 countries in recent years. "The United States' best friends have signed such memorandums of understanding," Ayalon said. "The agreement will also help our defense industries to better penetrate the mammoth American market, which is much bigger than the Chinese market."

There are two Israeli delegations visiting Washington this week to formulate the new understandings with the Pentagon. The crisis in defense relations erupted at the end of last year when the U.S. administration claimed Israel had concealed details of a deal with China to fix and improve Harpy assault drones. In response, the Americans severed relations with the Defense Ministry's director general, Amos Yaron, and imposed a series of sanctions on defense ties with Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided to accede to U.S. demands and sign the agreement to consult on exporting arms and defense technology.

In addition to the agreement, Israel will give the U.S. a written commitment to tighten oversight on defense exports and put in place new mechanisms and regulations. Israel will introduce legislative amendments to increase enforcement and toughen punishment for selling arms in violation of regulations. The U.S. will recognize the fact that the legislation will take time.

Mofaz briefed the delegation heads - Major General (Res.) Herzl Bodinger, who is handling the agreement on arms sales and clearing up the Chinese affair, and Brigadier General (Res.) Zvi Stauber, who is working on regulating the monitoring procedures - before they left for the U.S. Mofaz will go to Washington in July to sign the agreements, bringing the crisis to a close.