by Amir Rappaport
Pursuant to developments during Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli defense establishment will reduce the production of weapon systems in the USA in the context of joint Israeli-American projects, and will rely more heavily on Israeli-made products
Here is another unfamiliar result of Operation Protective Edge: the Israeli defense establishment will reduce the production of weapon systems in the USA in the context of joint Israeli-American projects, and will rely more heavily on Israeli-made products. Under a veil of secrecy, a decision has already been made at IMOD not to enable the production of at least one highly sensitive weapon system on US soil, despite the fact that the manufacture of said system in the USA may be funded through US defense aid instead of being paid for in NIS with Israeli taxpayer money.
The Israeli defense establishment will also intensify the manufacture of Israeli missiles that can substitute US-made munitions. The decision, in itself, will not have a substantial effect on Israel's security status, but it represents a major trauma in US-Israeli defense relations: things that had been taken for granted until Operation Protective Edge, like the fact that Israel could always count on a US airlift of ammunition in a time of trouble, are no longer certain at all.
The cause of this trauma was, naturally, the decision by the USA not to enable the shipping of ammunition to Israel during Operation Protective Edge. The story was revealed for the first time by Wall Street Journal, which reported that a shipment of Hellfire missiles for helicopters was withheld, based on US sources.
The full truth, revealed here for the first time, is much more severe: apparently, during Operation Protective Edge, the USA had completely stopped all connections with Israel's defense procurement delegation based in the USA. For days, no item whatsoever could be shipped. The expected airlift of US ammunition had never even arrived at its point of departure.
The crisis began about ten days into Operation Protective Edge, pursuant to allegations that the percentage of uninvolved civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip was extremely high (IDF admitted that about one half of all Palestinian deaths were probably civilians who had not been involved in the fighting).
At that stage, the Israeli defense establishment submitted to the USA a request for various types of munitions, including Hellfire missiles, to replenish the dwindling inventories of IDF.
The urgent request was submitted using a procedure that the Israeli defense establishment practices as part of every training exercise and wartime scenario – through the European Command of the US military (EUCOM).
The order to stop the processing of all Israeli requests came from a senior echelon – probably the White House, among other reasons, because Israel had ignored the initiatives of Secretary of State John Kerry and preferred to end the operation through a direct channel with the Egyptians. The State Department had been annoyed with Israel for several months, since it was revealed that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon had referred to Kerry as 'Messianic' in closed sessions.
The freezing of working relations vis-à-vis the Israeli procurement delegation generated a lot of frustration, but it should be noted that at the same time, strategic cooperative alliances between Israel and the USA continued through other channels. The Americans even allowed the IDF to use the materiel inventories they keep in storage depots on Israeli soil, which constitute 'backup' for the IDF inventories, in accordance with previous agreements between the two countries.
Israeli defense establishment authorities thought initially that the Americans delayed the airlift for the first time since the Yom-Kippur War of 1973, but US sources in Washington pointed out that a similar step was taken during the first Lebanon War in 1982.
Israel Defense has learned further that within the Israeli defense establishment, this recent affair has led to a reassessment of the almost automatic reliance on an airlift of ammunition from the USA as a part of practically every wartime scenario.
Among the measures currently under consideration is a review of the option of increasing the amount of US materiel stored in Israel in advance and a massive transition to Israeli-made munitions. For example, the Hellfire missiles the Americans failed to deliver may be replaced by IAI missiles, while precision guided munitions by Rafael may replace US-made air-to-surface munitions. Since Operation Protective Edge, Israeli defense industries have already received urgent procurement orders for arms and munitions worth billions of NIS.
Israeli and American defense industries have numerous joint projects under way, but pursuant to the developments during Operation Protective Edge, the standing order is for the weapon systems, at least in the context of one specific project, to be manufactured on Israeli soil.
Emerging from the Crisis?
It should be noted that the arms issue was resolved toward the end of Operation Protective Edge and that despite the recent events, the strategic defense relations between the two countries continue even now, including extensive intelligence cooperation. US DOD and IMOD are also proceeding with numerous joint research and development projects and US defense aid will remain a substantial element of the Israeli defense budget, which enables Israel to acquire such extremely costly systems as the F-35 future fighter aircraft. The Americans have also increased their support for the Iron Dome project during Operation Protective Edge. Thus far, they have financed, through a special budget (beyond the usual defense aid), the acquisition of most of the new batteries.
The AUSA 2014 Annual Meeting & Exposition was held this week in Washington DC, and the Israeli presence at the event was massive.
Next week, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IMOD Director General Dan Harel will arrive in the USA for talks at the Pentagon. Apparently, the events of Operation Protective Edge will be one of the issues discussed in the context of these talks.
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