Washington, Jerusalem Discussing Massive Compensation for Iranian Nuclear Deal

Although Israel continues to publicly oppose the emerging agreement, unofficial contacts have begun. U.S. likely to provide Israel with more F-35 combat aircraft, missile defense systems.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at its 2006 rolling-out ceremony in Texas.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at its 2006 rolling-out ceremony in Texas.Credit: AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The United States and Israel have begun preliminary, unofficial contacts regarding special American military aid for Israel due to developments in the Middle East.

Although neither side has said so explicitly, the Obama administration plans to provide Israel substantial defense compensation if an agreement is signed between Tehran and the world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear program. This is in light of the continued defense risk perceived coming from Iran, as well as huge arms deals between the Washington and the Gulf states. The United States is likely to provide Israel with, among other things, more F-35 combat aircraft and another battery of a missile interception system.

The United States has been committed over the course of a 30-year policy to maintaining Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors. This policy is slated to ensure that the Israel Defense Force has the best American weapons systems, equipment and technology and that no other Middle Eastern country – including Arab nations that are not necessarily hostile to Israel – gets advanced technological systems that have not yet been offered to Israel.

This policy was anchored in legislation in 2008. The president also must update Congress every four years regarding any and all weapons systems the United States has sold in the Middle East. Israel and the United States maintain a constant dialogue regarding the preservation of the IDF’s relative advantage, particularly when major arms deals are signed with Arab states.

Israel continues to publicly oppose the emerging agreement between the world powers and Iran presented in Lausanne early last month. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, as well as other ministers, have consistently warned against a “bad deal” which they say will leave Iran dangerously close to the ability to build a nuclear bomb by lifting most sanctions without touching on Iran’s abetting of terror across the region. There will be no official negotiation between Israel and the United States on compensation to Israel in the event of a deal (the current deadline for which is June 30), so that Israel cannot be perceived as having come to terms with the pact.

However, the Israeli defense establishment and the Pentagon have already begun preliminary contact on the type of defense package Israel would receive. Another incentive for these talks is the arms deals between the United States and the Gulf states, which have not waited for the final deal before acquiring defense systems designed to deter Iran. A well-placed source said that both countries have begun their “homework” ahead of such a deal.

According American media outlets, representatives of the Gulf states raised demands for new arms deals last week at a Camp David conference with U.S. President Barack Obama. They asked for additional combat aircraft, missile batteries and monitoring equipment. According to Stockholm’s International Peace Research Institute, in 2014 Saudi Arabia bought $80 billion worth of weapons while the emirates bought $23 billion worth of arms. The United States is the leading arms exporter to the Gulf states.

The Israeli defense establishment estimates that the future weapons deal between Israel and the United States will include more F-35s. So far, the sides have agreed that Israel would buy 33 of these combat aircraft using U.S. defense aid. The first two planes are scheduled to arrive in late 2016. The first operational squadron of the planes will begin operations about two years later, with the last of the planes arriving in 2021. However the defense establishment believes this is not enough and hopes to acquire at least 50 of these fighter planes so the Israel Air Force will have two fully operational squadrons. Each plane in the current deal is priced at $110 million.

Another key component in any future arms deal with Washington will be an anti-missile system. So far Israel has acquired an Arrow 2 system to intercept long-range missiles and nine Iron Dome batteries against short-range missiles. Next year, the David’s Sling system for medium-range threats is slated to go into operation. All these systems were funded with American defense aid and the United States has invested about $1 billion in developing interception missiles, above and beyond the $3.1 billion annual aid.

Israel is also likely to request additional aid to finance an improved Arrow 3 battery and to acquire some more Iran Dome batteries. According to an analysis by the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee from three year ago, which is also accepted by the army, Israel requires at least 12 or 13 batteries in order to effectively defend the country. Israel is also expected to ask the U.S. to allow it to buy advanced precision-guided munition, especially for the Air Force. The sides may also discuss the acquisition of technological systems for intelligence-gathering purposes.

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