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Obama offers Israel more F-35 fighters

Nov. 15, 2010 at 1:30 PM   |   Comments

TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. administration's offer to Israel of more Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters and other military equipment in return for a 90-day settlement freeze is an offer that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu "cannot refuse," the Haaretz daily said Monday.

According to media reports, U.S. President Barack Obama offered to add 20 F-35s to the 20 Israel ordered in October under a $2.75 billion contract.

The additional F-35s would give the Israeli air force a formidable strike capability unmatched in the region, and indeed the world, that could deliver massive blows against an adversary, such as Iran.

"The offer by President Obama is very enticing," Haaretz commentator Amos Harel observed.

"The addition of 20 F-35s to the package discussed two months ago tips the balance very clearly. From Israel's point of view, it's an offer that cannot be refused."

Israel has reportedly taken delivery of the first batch of 1,000 new U.S. 250-pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs it ordered in 2009. The SDBs, manufactured by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, can be carried by Boeing F-15s or Lockheed F-16s.

The bombs can penetrate 8 feet of concrete, making them ideal for strikes on Hezbollah's rocket bunkers and underground command posts in Lebanon.

Obama is pushing hard to revive the stalled Middle East peace process, in large part to notch up a major foreign policy triumph to distract from the drubbing his domestic policies in the midterm elections earlier this month.

The defense package and other commitments he is holding out to Netanyahu, who only last week rejected out of hand any resumption of the 10-month freeze that has expired, underscore the lengths Obama is prepared to go to secure a breakthrough in peace process.

But, Harel noted, the generosity of Obama's offer "raises suspicions that there are much broader and substantive issues at hand …

"Not only may there be a genuine Israeli willingness to move forward in a substantive way in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but perhaps some sort of deal on the Iranian question is afoot.

"Could it be -- and this is only conjecture -- that Obama is trying to persuade Israel to commit to desisting from any independent action against the nuclear installations in Iran, in exchange for a substantial future reinforcement of the Israeli air force?"

Harel noted that "according to the prime minister, the United States is generously offering to double the number of aircraft without the funding for them being taken from the future military aid package.

"This is an enormous gift … In spite of a great deal of badmouthing about him, the U.S. president has proven no less committed to Israel's security than his predecessor."

Obama's move came amid reports by U.S. public opinion analysts that American attitudes toward Israel are becoming much more critical, in part because of Netanyahu's hard line over a settlement freeze that could propel the peace process forward.

That shift appeared to be exemplified in an unusually harsh critique of the Israeli government over its policy regarding the Palestinians published last week in The New York Times by its Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman.

The writer, an American Jew who has long supported Israel, accused Netanyahu's coalition of acting like "a spoiled child" because "it feels no compunction about spurning an American request for a longer settlement freeze after billions and billions of dollars in U.S. aid."

The offer of another 30 F-35s for Israel, which will be the first foreign state to acquire the fifth-generation fighter, could mean it will get the jets before U.S. forces do.

Israel, along with the United Arab Emirates and India, led the world over the last five years in the procurement of new fighter aircraft, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute issued last week.

It said Israel bought 82 aircraft in 2005-10, mostly Lockheed Martin F-16I jets tailored for its air force, preceded by the emirates with 108 and India with 115.

The report warned of the destabilizing effect the sale of such aircraft could have.

"While combat aircraft are often presented as one of the most important weapons needed for defense, these same aircraft give countries possessing them the potential to easily and with little warning strike deep into neighboring countries," said Siemon Wezeman, the study's author.

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