Diplomatic Spat or Not, U.S.-Israel Defense Ties Continue With $250m Deal

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received the full wrath of the Obama administration, the Defense Ministry and Pentagon concluded yet another huge deal.

Israel will acquire three new Hercules-J transport aircraft, produced by Lockheed Martin, at a cost of $250 million. The planes will be manufactured according to Israeli specifications and include many systems produced by Israeli military suppliers.

The crisis between Israel and the United States is still not being felt as far as the two countries' defense establishments are concerned.

During a crisis earlier in the decade when China agreed to buy Israeli Phalcon early-warning and reconnaissance aircraft, the Pentagon made its dissatisfaction clear to the Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces. Relations took years to return to normal.

But during the past two years, defense relations have flourished. The air force is holding extensive exercises with its American counterpart, and this November a large joint missile defense exercise, code-named Juniper-Cobra, is scheduled to take place in Israel.

And because tensions between U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu have been underway for more than a year, the Americans built up alternative friendly links between the two countries' defense establishments. To a certain extent, these links are reflected by Defense Minister Ehud Barak's relationship with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Under the current circumstances, it appears that the U.S. administration is keen to maintain this relationship, even if the political pressure on Netanyahu is stepped up.

The bigger problem, from the defense point of view, lies in the implications of Palestinian-Israel tensions on the number-one strategic issue: the Iranian nuclear program. A series of visits to Israel by senior U.S. officials in recent months was meant to make clear that Washington has no intention of giving Israel a green light for a strike on Iran, or even a yellow one.

This message has definitely been received by defense officials. When relations are so tense, it's hard to coordinate international diplomatic steps against Iran. And if Israel needs to improve its preparedness in the event of a further escalation in the region - against Iran, or against Hezbollah, Hamas and possibly Syria - it will be more difficult to find a friendly audience.

One of the demands that the Americans put forth as a goodwill gesture toward the Palestinian Authority has to do with restoring conditions in the West Bank to the security lines on September 28, 2000, on the eve of the second intifada.

This means that the PA will receive complete control over Area A - meaning that Israel will agree to limit its ability to carry out arrests of suspects there. The partial implementation of this idea has been discussed by defense officials for some months.

It has not been entirely rejected by the IDF and Shin Bet security service, in view of the improved security coordination with the Palestinian Authority.

The difference would be that under the current circumstances of American political pressure, agreeing to such a demand may lead the Palestinians to assume that the power relations have changed and that they owe Israel nothing. In view of the dwindling sense of trust between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, such an assumption by the Palestinians is a guaranteed recipe for new trouble.