The agreement on the new US military aid package for Israel was received with mixed feelings in Israel overt joy within the Prime Minister's Bureau, sharp criticism outside it but it is a definitely a cause of celebration in some Persian Gulf states, in the boardrooms of some of the largest defense companies in the US, and among many legislators in Washington.
The reason for this is that the signing of the memorandum of understanding, which serves as the legal basis for the aid package, paves the way for the sale of some of the world's most advanced combat aircraft to three Gulf states. These are deals that Israel strongly opposed until recently, on the grounds that they harm the IDF's qualitative advantage. Now, when the new package assures Israel of finance for the procurement of dozens of F-35I ("Adir") aircraft and other advanced capabilities, the qualitative advantage looks safe for the next few years, and the basis of the main argument against the deals with the Gulf states has evaporated.
It is not clear how many Adirs will be bought. The cost of the initial deal for 100 F-35s in 2006 was $5 billion, or about $50 million each. Since then, the price has shot up to $15 billion, or $200 million each, according to an estimate in "Defense Industry Daily", or, according to other sources, about $100 million "only".
Israeli sources cited by "Defense News" in February said that if Israel received around $40 billion US aid over ten years, it would have to limit procurement for the Air Force to just two more squadrons of Adirs, but that if the package reached $50 billion over ten years, Israel would wish to procure a further two squadrons costing about $10 billion. Now, when it is known that the package is $33 billion over ten years, plus $5 billion for missile development, the question arises whether the Israel Air Force will be able to buy all the Adirs it thinks it needs.
Whatever the number turns out to be, the perception in the US is that Israel's qualitative edge is a fact. Senator Bob Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Wednesday that the US was now ready to approve the sale of combat aircraft to Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, following the agreement on the aid package to Israel.
Two years ago, Qatar sought to buy 72 F-15E aircraft in the US. At the same time, Kuwait applied to buy 28 F/A-18E/F aircraft, and now Bahrein is in the market for up to 18 F-16s. These applications were put in a drawer, in compliance with US law, which requires the US administration to maintain Israel's qualitative military advantage over its neighbors.
In February this year, an Israeli official told "Defense News" that Israel's opposition to the sale of weapons to Qatar arose from that country's support for extreme Sunni Islamist organizations. A former Israeli minister said that Qatar directly helped Hamas and that its ideology encouraged extreme groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite the thaw in relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab countries because of their common enemy, Iran, a development that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about a great deal, Jerusalem continues to rely on the US administration to maintain its qualitative superiority, "Defense News" said then. At least, that was the case until now.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 19, 2016
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