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Israel starts campaign to boost U.S. military aid

Sept. 27, 2013 at 1:12 PM   |   Comments

TEL AVIV, Israel, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Israel's military chiefs are pushing for a bump in the $3.1 billion a year the Jewish state receives in U.S. military aid even though the 10-year agreement doesn't expire until 2017 and America is struggling with domestic economic issues.

Among other things, the Israelis are citing a 2008 U.S. law that for the first time legally committed Washington to maintain the Jewish state's technological superiority -- its Qualitative Military Edge, or QME, in military terminology -- over its regional adversaries, particularly Iran, which has been pursuing nuclear technology.

The QME, the cornerstone of the strategic alliance between the United States and Israel for the past few decades, was long viewed as a negotiating principle between the two allies, but was made law under the Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2008. The act requires U.S. military aid at all times ensures Israel is technologically capable of countering any array of hostile states and non-state combatants such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The $3.1 billion a year in military aid is by far the largest single package of its kind provided by the United States but the Israelis argue a new set of security threats in the Middle East -- such as the Syrian civil war, the turmoil in Iraq and Egypt, and the increased danger from al-Qaida now operating in Syria and Egypt -- justify an increase in foreign military finance, or FMF, grants.

Military analyst Nathan Guttman said in preliminary talks now under way, Israel is laying out "the principles it would like to see guide the next aid package."

"One will aim to put a dollar sum on the cost of maintaining Israel's QME. This estimate will take into account what it will take to ensure that Israel's armed forces are always one step ahead of their adversaries -- or those Israel argues are adversaries -- in the region," he wrote in the U.S. Jewish newspaper the Forward. "The second will be to include missile defense programs, currently funded through a separate Pentagon budget line, in the foreign aid program managed through the State Department's budget."

The Pentagon has provided $600 million in the last two years to fund the development and production of several Israeli missile-defense systems that have a major role in Israeli strategy to counter Iran's growing ballistic missile arsenal -- which could carry nuclear warheads at some point -- and short-range weapons in the hands of Hezbollah and Palestinian hard-liners.

Syria, too, is seen as a potential missile threat.

The Israeli systems include Israel Aerospace Industries' Arrow anti-ballistic system, with the state-owned IAI and the Boeing Co. jointly developing Arrow-3, the most advanced variant of the system that's designed to intercept long-range missiles outside Earth's atmosphere.

The Raytheon Co. has a similar program with Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to develop David's Sling, a lower-altitude weapon designed to counter mid-range missiles.

U.S. funds were also involved in the production of Rafael's short-range Iron Dome anti-missile system. It's been operational since early 2012 and has, by official tally, racked up an 85 percent kill rate against Palestinian rockets.

Israel's military is undergoing a major strategic shift away from large conventional air and ground forces to meet the challenges posed by new technologies, such as the cyberwar threat.

Guttman noted that in the current U.S.-Israel talks, "Israel is pointing to, among other things, recent sales of advanced American weaponry to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

The United States has sold the Saudis new and upgraded Boeing F-15 combat jets, along with dozens of Boeing AH-64 Apache gunships and Sikorksy UH-60M Black Hawks.

The Emirates acquired Lockheed Martin's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile systems, known as THAAD, and Boeing CH-47F Chinook transport helicopters. Egypt, Iraq and Oman received Lockheed F-16s.

When the Americans unveiled these contracts, officials said Israel had been assured the sales would not undermine its QME.

But Israel's outgoing ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, noted that "the nexus between QME and FMF has become stronger."

He said the "very large contracts to the Middle East ... raise the question of armies having capabilities similar to our own and how we make sure we can maintain our QME."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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